By Sejal Shah I Updated: July 29, 2020
This is part two of a series exploring each of theto discover how we can integrate them in our daily life experiences both on and off the mat for a deeper, richer, and more fulfilling life.
We each begin our journey with yoga for different reasons—flexibility, strength, weight loss, healing an injury, and stress management, to name a few. Today, many think of yoga in relation to what size pants you can squeeze into or how many advanced asanas you’ve posted on Instagram. But ancient yogis related the practice of yoga with the flexibility, strength and power of the mind and the consciousness, more than the body. Their life encompassed practicing all the eight limbs of yoga, including the
Practicing the art of(non violence), the very first Yama of Patanjali Yoga Sutra, involves refraining from the intention of causing physical and psychological pain to any living being, and the conscious integration of compassion into every aspect of daily life. It is not merely a passive state of refraining from violence -- ahimsa implies the active expression of compassion. It not only encompasses our philosophical attitudes towards war and killing, but directly impacts our daily interactions with family, friends, colleagues and neighbors; the way we earn a living and how we spend our money; the kind of food we eat; our relationship with the environment; how we treat animals and other species; and how we view politics, business and education.
The yogis of the past practicedas part of their spiritual development. Practicing ahimsa takes courage and skill and challenges us on both the physical and mental level. Refraining from thoughts and words that can cause pain to others, and refraining from retaliating when insulted or unjustly criticized, are some common examples of ahimsa.
How can I practice Ahimsa in my everyday life?
1. Eat a healthy and plant-based vegetarian diet
Write An Ahimsa Journal
Take the 30-day challenge:
Go on the special Mood and Energy Enhancers Diet for the next 30-days
Just for the next 30-days, go on a special diet plan.
Include only healthy vegetarian food in your diet plans and let us know how you feel:
Journal your observations about your energy levels, moods, emotions, and thoughts.
For better experience, add 30-minutes of yoga practice too.
We would like to hear from you.
Share your experience with us at
Our body is a precious gift, and we must honor and respect it. Through this body, we exist in this world and enjoy and accomplish amazing things. To nourish and love our body fully, we should know and understand what we are eating and where it comes from. Nourish the body with fresh, healthy, nutritious, wholesome, organic, plant-based foods. Treat your body as a holy place that does not thrive on unhealthy or junk food and the deaths of other creatures. Some of the biggest animals in the world thrive on nothing but plant-based food! Today, more and more people are turning towardsand because of its . In addition, according to , consuming a non-vegetarian diet is bad for the environment and is one of the biggest causes of global warming.
Besides eating a fresh, pure vegetarian or vegan diet, it’s also recommended to avoid alcohol, coffee, drugs, smoking, using microwave ovens, overeating, eating extremely spicy food, eating in a hurry, eating while you’re in a bad mood or watching TV, and arguing while eating, as much as possible. These are all things that are considered to harmful to the body and the mind. Learn more about eating with Ahimsa withand .
Balance: If cutting out certain things from your diet causes you harm, then it’s important to consider what works best for your unique body. Don’t feel guilty, because that is also one form of violence. Try your best to follow ahimsa as much as you can.
2. Cultivate the seeds of positive and loving thoughts
The mind is the most powerful tool in our possession. Everything begins from this point. Our thoughts andplay such a big role in our overall well-being. The way we think and feel is proven to be connected even to our , ,
Gurudev Sri Sri Ravi Shankar explains, “Often, useless weeds grow without any cultivation. You do not have to make any effort, they just grow. A useful plant needs some attention. All the unwanted, unnecessary doubts, thoughts which are there need not be sown, they just come up by themselves. By swadhaya (self-study), by attention, you can weed them out and keep only those which are essential.”
If we don’t weed seeds of negativity, of self-harm, of self-criticism, those weeds begin to grow and multiply. Rather than celebrating the gift that we are, we start to judge, compare and criticise ourselves and others. Himsa, or violence, at the level of thoughts, slowly gets translated into words and actions. If you are constantly critical of yourself, you will inevitably be critical of others. If the only thoughts going through your head are negative, there is a minimal chance that you are sending positive vibes into the world. Coming from the space of accepting and appreciating the innate beauty, wholeness, and imperfect perfectness in ourselves and people around us will strengthen the roots of ahimsa in us.
- Love, hug and be kind to yourself
- Give genuine compliments
- Go on a criticism fast for a week, for a month, for a lifetime
- Observe your anger and learn how to deal with it. Here are few useful reads:
- Provide listening ear, practice empathy
- Perform random acts of kindness
- Try to make someone else smile. It will make you smile too!
- Say what you’re grateful for when you wake up and, say what you’re thankful for as you reflect on the day before you go sleep
- Chant, sing, dance, celebrate your very existence
3. Make sure not to skip your meals and zzz’s
When I am hungry, sleepy, tired, and bored, I tend to become short-tempered, impatient, and just plain grumpy, out of balance in general. These states indicate low prana (vital energy). When our prana is low, it is difficult to practice ahimsa and be compassionate to others. So make sure that you maintain high prana in yourself. Food, sleep, breath, and maintaining a calm and happy state of mind are great sources of energy that help maintain high prana in ourselves. Learn more about these sources in the Art of Living .
4. Ahimsa on the wheels - Be a calm driver
There are moments while you’re in your car and someone cuts you off really aggressively and you might witness a slew of angry, negative thoughts run through your head and perhaps some of those even spill out of your mouth. Driving aggressively or getting angry with another aggressive drive both account for Ahimsa. Ahimsa inspires you to curb that too.
5. Care for the Mother Earth and our ecosystem
Trying to live each day as environmentally friendly as possible is a great way to practice ahimsa. Here are a few ways, we can express our care for Mother Earth.
- Taking staircases instead of elevators; walking and riding bikes instead of using a car, and carpooling whenever possible.
- Bringing cloth or plastic reusable bags whenever you go grocery shopping
- Supporting local businesses, and shopping at the local farmers markets or produce shops.
- Switching to natural products to minimise the use of harmful chemicals
- Minimising paper products and using recyclable containers
- Planting trees
- Being mindful while using all natural resources
- Composting our food scraps
- Opting for eggs from cage-free hens or milk from grass-fed, synthetic hormone free cows
- Trying out being vegan for a week, or even slowly phasing out meat from your diet by practicing Meat-free Mondays
- Learning where our clothes and other objects come from, and choosing ethical companies and providers
- Going on a technology fast once or twice a month
6. Use your on-mat yoga practice for… practice
It’s easier to consider ahimsa in our yoga practice and then try to translate it to our life. For example, when practicing yoga,
- Do you do your sadhana (practice) in a disciplined manner or as per your mood?
- Do you harm yourself in any way by either being too pushy or being too lazy?
- Do you deny your body rest when needed?
- Do you pay attention to your breath?
- Do you glance at the other students in the yoga studio and compare yourself to them?
- Do you base your self worth on whether you can do a certain pose or not?
- Do you think how ugly your toes look when you are doing a forward bend or roll your eyes in sarcasm at your love handles in a side bend?
- Do you get mad at yourselves for your chattering mind in savasana or in meditation?
These are good questions to observe ourselves on the mat and bring some ahimsa into our yoga practice. Soon it will start oozing out into other parts of your life as well.
7. Just let it go
Sometimes we just need to put a stop to controlling everything and need to let go and let things flow. A compulsive need to control is just a product of various fears that we have. Fear is the basis of violence and aggression. When we start letting go preconceived ideas or outcomes, we start feeling more at peace with ourselves, others around and situation that we are in.
8. Resolve conflicts by peaceful measures
Conflicts are part of life, everywhere - in relationships, at work, between communities and nations. Gurudev Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, who is globally considered a champion of conflict resolution, says, “Turbulence is a part of this world, whereas making peace is the nature of our spirit. If with a strong resolve and skill, we are able to remain centered in peace, it does not remain limited to just us, it begins to calm down the turbulence around us as well.”
There are usually two sides to any conflict, and no matter who strikes first, eventually both sides are wounded. Conflict arises in the first place because both sides stick to their stand, yet to resolve the issue, both need to rise above and look at the larger picture. Breakdown of communication is a major cause of any conflict and thus, peaceful dialogue and negotiation is an important tool in resolving it.
Remembering that everyone is fighting a hard battle, and that everyone is looking to be loved for all that they are, is a good place to start with. The spirit is nourished by loving others. Let us be mindful and practice ahimsa; whenever you hear that voice of negativity, of hatred and the violence that comes with it, make the conscious choice to silence it and replace it with something kind. Ahimsa in action is the practice of gentleness, compassion, understanding, patience, and love… Let me be patient today. Let me be understanding of a difficult situation, to actually be compassionate in a given circumstance. As the Dalai Lama said, “be the change you wish to see in the world.”
9. Practice Meditation
When our lives are going well, practicing ahimsa seems easy enough. But when stress and fear start to pile up, our best intentions evaporate. Human beings are emotional creatures, and what we choose to do with our emotions says a lot about how spiritually mature we are. The yogis say that to create a peaceful, harmonious environment at home, at work, or in our community, we must first find peace within ourselves. By observing our habitual reactions and their consequences, we can learn to pause, take a deep breath, and readjust. As we step back and witness, we can choose to respond in new, more loving and accepting ways.
I find committing to a daily practice of has helped me tremendously. When I observe negative self-talk occupying my mind, I replace it with my Sahaj mantra. This is a powerful way to create a positive vibration in the mind, one that helps us identify with our higher self. Even meditating for five minutes deepens our connection with the inner source of unconditional love and wisdom. If we honor this daily commitment, slowly, over time, our mantra and meditation will loosen and untie the subtler knots that bind us from being our real self. As we choose to live more from our inner center and feel the sense of oneness with others, our personality expands, and we become more kind, loving, forgiving, and compassionate. Ahimsa, at its core, points to the underlying unity in all creation—at the deepest level, we are one and the same. This awareness gradually unfolds as we progress in our spiritual practices.
10) Get involved with non-violent initiatives to help spread peace
There are many who are committed to stop violence and bring peace. As yogis, let us be ambassadors of peace and support such initiatives, not only to strengthen our personal practice of ahimsa, but also to expand it to make a global impact. If you would like to host the screening of a film which is based on the true story of transformation of victims of violence,click for more information.
Lastly, remember the wisdom of the sage who reminded a bruised snake he had once advised to practice ahimsa: “I told you not to bite, but I didn’t tell you not to hiss.” Being kind does not mean that others should abuse you, so use proper discrimination and see if your interactions require you to be more firm and truthful. By taking care of our needs in a balanced and clear way we become healthy, happy, and calm. Then, from that place of balance and wholeness, we naturally want to extend ourselves to others—our family and friends, co-workers, community, the earth, everyone and everything -- with love and compassion.
Practice of ahimsa is a work in progress and let us not expect drastic changes over night. It takes time to make new habits and behaviors. Let us take one day at a time and sooner or later we will see that we are established in ahimsa. A strong intention and loving patience will make it happen.
But in the meantime, let us remember the butterfly effect that is responsible for the hurricane at a far away place just by fluttering its wings, know for sure that each kind gesture you make is not only strengthening you but also is creating an impact somewhere.
Before you go on to explore the second yama of :
How about you? Did you consciously practice Ahimsa this week? What are your observations? Share with us at
Sign up for and take a first step towards self care and ahimsa today!
Sejal Shah, E-RYT 500 Sri Sri Yoga Teacher, YACEP, C-IAYT, Meditation Teacher, Happiness expert, NYU Post Graduate Medical School approved Yoga-CME retreat facilitator, Mind-Body Wellness Writer, Homeopath. She can be followed on , , and .