Ahimsa – Yamas of Yoga

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Ahimsa is a concept that has been promoted in most forms of spirituality for millennia. The word ahimsa embraces the concept of non-violence and compassion. Ahimsa was written about extensively in the yoga sūtras of Patañjali around 400 CE . Ahimsa is the first of the yamas – self restraints – in yogic philosophy. On the surface this concept of non-violence advocates refraining from physically harming another human out of malice. Ahimsa, the concept of not causing physical harm seems straight forward when we talk about murder, rape, shooting, stabbing, torture and punching. However, there are mixed beliefs about violence as it applies to appropriate self defense or even defensive war. As we know in this Kali yuga, times can get wild, unpredictable and dark. This is the time more than ever to guide our actions and thoughts towards peace.

– Side note the Kali yuga is the vedic age of quarrel and strife and should not be confused with the Goddess Kālī which is pronounced differently.

In past yoga teacher trainings, students have discussed that they have reoccurring thoughts of violence towards other people or systems of people. Is this a concern? Yes. In the absence of immediate threat, looping thoughts of violence and anger cause a physiological flight and fight stress cascade which is deleterious to hormone balance, the liver, the nervous system, gastrointestinal system and musculoskeletal body. It also changes the way a person breaths causing a disturbance in prana and the subtle body.

Ahimsa extends to avoiding violence projected onto others through cruel words or mean gestures that cause emotional harm. How many times do we hear others lash out in unbridled criticism, yelling, cruel speech or degradation? Take for example road rage or social media badgering. Many people feel a tantalizing pressure relief and outright justification to react aggressively when things do not go their way. The yoga sūtras of Patañjali and approach of ahimsa recommends setting aside the egoic reaction and practicing compassion. Consider that the person who is driving “unsatisfactorily” may have just got news that a family member died, just got fired or is suffering from stress, fatigue or low blood sugar. It is really an awful feeling to be aggressively honked at, flipped off and scowled at when you intended no harm to the other driver.

Ahimsa also encompasses neglect or greed that leads to deprivation of shelter, food or hydration. Now most of us would not think of doing this to our loved ones, but what about when we turn a blind eye as a community and global collective. I know the subject stirs uneasiness at times, but lets study our part in these matters to come up with ways to improve our personal and collective responsibilities, actions and consciousness. As a small child, my mother and I were often dependent on food programs and generosity of others to eat and survive and I will always be grateful to those who gave to us when we were less fortunate.


Let’s switch gears to animals. Where do we as individuals and a community stand in regards animal violence such as sport hunting for a trophy animal head on the wall or dog or cock fighting? Most people these days are appalled by this type of senseless violence. What about killing animals for food? Spiritualists who practice vegetarianism or veganism (there is a difference) advocate not eating animals to avoid the pain and karma of killing. Much of the population feel that killing animals for food is alright as long as they were treated “humanely”. The truth is that we are sheltered from witnessing the violence and inhumane treatment that these animals endure. Grocery stores just sell tidy and pretty packages of “meat”. People are sheltered from the slaughter process, making it easier to consume excessive meat like a privilege. I grew up raising and butchering animals from our back yard for food. In the morning I would go feed the chickens, sing to them and collect eggs, but by night fall we might eat that same chicken. It was very difficult for me as a clairsentient child to witness and participate in this practice. I felt the animal’s pain and fear. When we order a burger, we don’t see the the cow die. I’m not telling anybody how to eat, I’m just discussing ahimsa.

That’s a picture of me as little girl playing with my chickens. Killing my little friends for food created a deep emotional rift in my mind. I believe that more people would choose non-violent food options if they had to raise and butcher the animals themselves.


Now let us think about how we treat ourselves. What do we say about ourselves when we look in the mirror in the morning or when we make a mistake? Do we use kind self speech? You know the saying “You are your own worst critic.”. Remember that our thoughts become our words, our words become our deeds, our deeds become our habits and our habits become our existence. So practice today only saying kind things about yourself. Ahimsa promotes universal benevolence, the practice of compassion, love, forgiveness, generosity and friendliness. Ask yourself today how you can practice ahimsa on a wider basis in your own body, family, work place and community. In this Kali yuga, we all have to be responsible for how much “violence” we contribute to the collective consciousness. My Mom always said “Keep your own side of the street clean”. So remember change starts with ourselves.


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