“Lokah Samastah Sukhino Bhavantu.”
It’s only fitting that after coming off a month of studying and embodying the practice of Brahmacharya (right use of energy), we now look to create more mindfulness around who we are being – with respect to others, ourselves, and the world around us.
Ahimsa, defined as “causing no injury; non-harming”, is the first of the five Yamas along Patanjali’s Eight-Limbed Path, and is essentially the embodiment of non-violence in all aspects of life. Everything we do – from the words we speak, to the thoughts we think, to the actions we take – gives us the power to either cause healing or harm. Ahimsa asks us to conduct ourselves with compassion, generosity, and kindness – always. In it’s purest form, Ahimsa is the highest expression of unconditional love toward every living thing, including ourselves.
Violence isn’t always outright and obvious, as in physical altercations (though this is certainly part of it); Sometimes, violence is subtle and abstract. Self-defeating negative thoughts, holding grudges against those who’ve wronged us, spreading gossip, jealousy, and shame – all have the capacity to cause harm and suffering.
Consider how it feels – physically and emotionally – when you get riled up in the face of confrontation and begin preparing yourself for a fight. Your breathing and heart rate speeds up, your skin feels hot, your jaw tightens and your muscles tense, and your body goes into “fight or flight” mode. And whether or not any fisticuffs were exchanged, you continue feeling the effects of this stress response long after any raised hackles have subsided – sometimes for hours or even days later.
Now consider how whenever you feel jealousy or shame, or when you speak damaging and self-defeating words to yourself or to others, your body enters into the same stress response. Heart racing, hot skin, that sinking feeling in your stomach – all tell-tale signs of fight or flight – even though you aren’t actually in any physical danger. Your body still feels the violence your thoughts and words are inflicting. Over time, the cumulative effects of this stress response wreak havoc on your nervous system, causing damage and harm. Similarly, those on the other end of your damaging thoughts and words often experience the same reaction, and the cycle of violence continues.
Ahimsa gives us the opportunity to stop that cycle in it’s tracks. To choose love, kindness, generosity, and compassion at every turn.
In every moment, we have the power to choose who we are being.
When you’re running late to work, and the person in the next lane wants over in front of you, you have the power to choose whether to practice ahimsa and let them in, or to selfishly cut them off. When your coworker says something that raises your hackles, you have the choice to react by saying something unkind, or to practice ahimsa by pausing, taking a deep breath, and letting it go. Conversely, when you see someone on the train acting violently toward another passenger, you have the choice of sitting by and doing nothing, or to practice ahimsa by standing up to protect the person being victimized. When you default into “I can’t do this” or “I’m not that” thoughts in your head, you have the power to believe the lies of your story, or to practice ahimsa and flip the script into something powerful and positive.
At the end of the day, our choices and our actions do not exist in a bubble; As we engage in the practice of Ahimsa, everything – from our interactions with the people we meet, to the products we choose to purchase, and the companies we choose to support – all comes together to create either a chain reaction of loving kindness, compassion, and generosity, or one of continued pain and suffering.
Many people talk about wanting the world to be a different place, without ever taking any actual action to change it otherwise. The practice of Ahimsa – day in, day out, with each passing moment – empowers us to walk through our lives with an eye toward creating that very world we desire.
Raise your voice. Raise your vibration. Rise up and live from love.
Gandhi said, “If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. We need not wait to see what others do.”
It starts with us. It starts with YOU.
What becomes possible when you live a life of love? Patanjali (and all of us here at Five Peaks!) invites you to discover it for yourself, by walking – gently and steadily – along the Eight-Limbed Path. And at the very beginning of that road? The very first directive along that path? Ahimsa.
Colure is a mostly-vegan yoga teacher, mom, wife, graphic designer, self-proclaimed nerd, and proud Co-Founder of Five Peaks Power Yoga. When she’s not at the studio teaching or practicing yoga, she can be found relaxing in her favorite local coffee shop, or adventuring around the greater DC region with her family.