One of the most fascinating parts of my Yoga Teacher Training (YTT), was reading the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. Patanjali lays out guidelines for right living where the actual asana practice is just a tiny piece of the puzzle. Though I love all eight of the 8 Limbs of Yoga, Patanjali lays out for us. I particularly like the Yamas and Niyamas. I like to think of the Yamas as how we should act out in society, our interactions and treatment of others and the Niyamas as self-discipline or how we treat ourselves.
In a recent newsletter of mine, as I began to look at Ahimsa, the first Yama, it’s explanation really struck me. The Sanskrit word, Ahimsa, means non-violence, but it is not just non-violence in the physical sense this also includes mental and emotional non-violence to ourselves and others. How often are our thoughts and emotions toxic? How often do we jump to conclusions before we truly know what transpired, causing undue mental stress upon ourselves only to learn that there was nothing to worry about? I personally struggle with this Yama, especially with my new understanding of it. My mind is often clouded with thoughts of low self-worth, anger towards myself and others, unforgiveness, low self-esteem, self-doubt, the list goes on.
This new realization led me to truly look at Ahimsa and how I can actually practice non-violence in my life. Practicing patience with those I come into contact with, being open-minded towards others, breathe through anger and frustration, speak kindly, be compassionate, don’t judge, and possibly the most important practicing self-care are all ways we can incorporate Ahimsa in our lives. One of the keys to putting this into action is mindfulness. Creating a mindfulness practice through yoga and meditation can give us the boost we need to be kinder, gentler, non-violent people. By harnessing the power of our thought lives we are better able to handle the world around us. Meditation can come in various forms, it’s not all about sitting quietly with eyes closed although that is one of my favorite ways to meditate. Prayer, journaling, painting, gazing at a fire, and exercise are all great ways to focus our thoughts. Yoga is a moving meditation as we connect breath with movement. Learning various forms of breathwork or Pranayama is also beneficial to meditation. Concentrating on our breath makes clearing the mind that much easier, it gives us something to think about in stillness. By harnessing the power of the mind, we can take our thoughts and emotions captive leading towards Ahimsa to ourselves and ultimately those we come in contact with.