8 limbs of yoga, eight limbs of yoga

Ahimsa: What’s in it for Me?

Christians are familiar with the ten commandments and in each major religion there is some sort of guiding principle for living a ‘virtuous” life. Yoga has the yamas and niyamas. Yamas can be thought of as the ethical principles for a yogi to follow and there are five of them.

First in line is ahimsa, translated commonly as “non-harming.” It is the one associated with Mahatma Gandhi and non-violence. It arises from the recognition that all beings are one with the Supreme Being and, as such, are part of ourselves. This is why vegetarian eating is fundamental to Hinduism.

Ahimsa requires us to take no more than we need and to do what we can for the well-being of our fellow travelers on the planet because, since we are all part of “God,” In a very real way each of us is part of every other. And every other is part of us. When we harm others we harm ourselves.

Studies have shown that it doesn’t matter whether we receive kindness, offer kindness, or observe kindness. The same biological/emotional reaction arises within us no matter what our perspective. I find it true for me. I see a kindness done, or hear of it and my heart expands and I am filled with warmth and hope. Doing something to help someone else makes me feel like I have a purpose. Receiving kindness makes me feel like there is a place in the world for me. This is the value of Ahimsa for me.

Sometimes the complexities that societies must accommodate frustrate folks to the point that war or extermination seems the only answer. Those things don’t make us safer or happier. Judging others for their beliefs or behaviors does not help.

Compassion does. So does holding the ideal of ahimsa in our hearts and remembering how deeply we are all connected.

The spirit in me salutes the spirit in you. We’re all in bodies together.

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