Ahimsa | Living in Non-Violence

Hello Spiritual Warriors,

Welcome to the first post in a series all about the yamas and niyamas, two of the eight limbs of yoga. I'm so excited to get this kicked off! If you haven't seen the introduction post, I would start there so you know what this series will be all about and the book I'll be following to guide these posts.

The first tenet in the yamas is Ahimsa, or non-violence. This is probably my favorite one out of all ten, so it's exciting that we're starting here. Let's begin with a definition: Ahimsa can be thought of living in a non-violent, peaceful, and compassionate way. This includes other beings, as well as animals, the earth, and even ourselves. Ahimsa asks us to "step lightly, do no harm, and to honor the relationship we have with the earth, with each other, and with ourselves" (taken from our text, The Yamas & Niyamas by Deborah Adele). That sounds lovely, right? Let's unpack it a bit, though, to better understand how a life like this is possible.

One of the first things to think about in living a non-violent life is to understand what causes violence in the first place. This is especially important with all the violence we see in the world today - people betraying others, killing our fellow man, eating meat at an all time high, denying climate change, the list goes on. For me, this all breaks down to an unspoken fear that lives within each of us. Fear is the root cause of violence. When we fear others, the unknown, even ourselves, the world becomes an unpredictable, chaotic place that we learn to not trust and therefore should defend ourselves against. When fear takes a hold, we cannot see the world as it truly is. We cannot see the good in others, in our surroundings. Our perspective becomes centered around survival, and everything around us is a threat.

This can happen within all of us and starts by the level of stress we all feel on a daily basis. We are running around with a million obligations, expectations, social media in our hands for hours every day, flooded with all the messages of how we should be living our lives, what makes us successful. Phew! It's no wonder that we are more stressed out than ever and we see violence on the rise. 

Okay, so if we're all stressed out, living our lives in survival mode, how are we supposed to counteract this and not be led down the path of violence? The components of Ahimsa teach us how to come back to ourselves, step out of seeing the world as a series of threats, and live a more peaceful life.

Find Courage
Remember that famous saying, "Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather feeling the fear and doing it anyways." In order to find our courage, we don't have to be fearless and pretend that we don't fear things in our lives, or the future, or whether we'll live the life we want for ourselves. Rather, it's allowing ourselves to feel that fear and choosing to do what's best for ourselves anyways. It's letting go of all the possibilities that might happen if we do fill in the blank. Courage comes from taking a chance on ourselves and doing what scares us.

Create Balance
Balance is something so many of us are lacking. It's so hard to find a work-life balance and find the time to be both successful and take care of ourselves. In order to find balance, we have to take a step back and see our lives from an outside perspective. Where are we spreading ourselves thin? How are we running ourselves ragged? How are we denying ourselves the love we desperately need? So many of us play the game of busy equals success; the more busy we are the better we seem to others. While being busy might be impressive in this sick game, spreading ourselves too thin will catch up to us. This might be in our physical health, mental health, relationships with others; either way, it's not sustainable, and we should be praising people for making their health and happiness a priority. In order to start doing this, tune into that inner wisdom we all have. Ask yourself, "What do I really need in this moment? How can I bring more love into my life?" Then, just listen. There is an intuitive voice that will let you know. It might take a bit, but keep trying and listening, and it'll come. This is what you need to follow rather than all the exterior messages about what you should be doing.

Deal with Powerlessness
Oh, powerlessness. We all feel it, possibly on a daily basis, and it creates so much anxiety and fear within us. This is such a hard one, because of the fear it creates and it's often a pretty comfortable spot for many of us. What I mean by that is it can be comfortable to believe that we are powerless because maybe we've been told that message and believe it or because it allows us to not be responsible for what happens to us. The crazy thing is that the yogic teachings tell us that powerlessness is just an illusion we create about the world and what is happening to us. We often believe that we are powerless in situations throughout our life, but in reality we are just viewing it that way. This means that we can change our view and see ourselves as having power! Let me share a story about how I used to view myself as powerlessness to bring this more clearly into view:
While living in Boston, I relied on the T (public transit) every day to commute, sometimes for over an hour each way. If you've lived in Boston, then you know that the T isn't the most reliable thing. It's actually more consistent in having delays and shut downs than it is in actually getting you somewhere on time. When this would happen, I used to get so incredibly anxious about being late, and this would often lead me to feeling an intense anger, sometimes rage. I believed that I had no choice but to take the T and was now stuck. There was nothing I could do but wait and was at the mercy of the transit gods. One day I decided to change this view and realized I had options. I didn't have to render myself powerless. I then turned delays and shut downs into a game. I viewed these moments as challenges to figure out how to change my route in order to get to where I needed to be on time. Maybe I could take another train, a couple buses. Sometimes I would even take a Lyft, which was kind of a treat and allowed me to interact with some pretty awesome people. Once I changed my view and gave myself more power, I found myself becoming less anxious and rageful towards the T. I took back my power.

Self-love is a reciprocal kind of relationship - the more we love ourselves, the more we can love others. We also are unable to fully love others if we cannot learn to love ourselves. Love really is an inside job, and the more we are able to forgive and accept ourselves, the more at peace we will be. Have you ever met one of those people that totally seems at ease with themselves and can see the positive in others? Those people have probably done the internal work and are able to radiate love into the world because they love themselves and are at peace with who they are. Start practicing self-love by working towards accepting who you are in this moment and forgiving yourself for what has happened in the past. Spend some time pampering yourself, eating healthy foods, doing something you love. See how your outlook on the world and others changes as you change.

Understand worry as a form of violence
Okay, so seeing worry for others as a form of violence seems pretty extreme, but take it in this way - by worrying about others, the message you're sending is that you don't trust them to make the right decision or take care of themselves.  By worrying about others, we're actually telling others that we think they are not capable. I used to be pretty bad at this one and still struggle at times. In the past, I had a track record of getting into relationships where I tried to fix the other person. I also have "helped" my friends by telling them what I think they should do or throwing tons of questions at them about their decisions that called their rationale into question. I used to view this as caring about that person, that I cared so much about what happened in their life that I wanted to help and make sure they did it right. Really, this view is so self-righteous. Not only am I telling them I don't trust them to do the right thing in their own life, but I'm also saying that I know better then them! Instead of taking this expert stance with our friends, family, partners, try supporting them through their decisions. Ask how you can be helpful; show interest in their lives; and above all, believe in their ability to do the right thing for themselves.

Develop Compassion
Truly, I think one of the biggest things we are missing in this world is compassion for each other. And, fear really makes this so much harder. Compassion calls upon us to view our fellow man as being an equal, that we are all human; to understand that we all suffer and are just doing our best each day. I think that compassion can really be harnessed through showing ourselves compassion. Going back to self-love, if we can accept and forgive ourselves, we can show ourselves more compassion, and that allows us to translate that to others. When we can see that some of our most violent and hasty reactions have come out of fear, we can see how others might act in violent ways through their own fear. In essence, compassion allows us to see reality as it really is rather than how we think reality should be.

As promised, each week there will be journal prompts and/or exercises to bring the specific tenant more into our lives. So, here are some ways to practice Ahimsa in the coming week:

- Practice being brave. Identify something that scares you. Maybe it's going on a trip, quitting a job, starting a business, telling someone how you feel, speaking up during a meeting - whatever it is, identify it, then go do it! Just allow yourself to feel the fear, own it, then do it anyways. Then, spend some time journaling on how it went, how you feel having done it, what you learned.

- Practice some self-care. Listen to that inner voice of wisdom and do whatever it tells you you need. Let go of any self-judgments about what you should be doing and spend time doing what you need or want. Spend some time papering yourself and showing yourself some love.

- See something in a new way. Is there a situation that tends to leave you feeling powerless and angry? Take that situation and try to see it in another way that allows you to take back some of your power. Maybe do what I did with the T and make something a game, maybe take action where you thought you couldn't. See what it feels like to be powerful and in charge of what happens in your life.

- Practice non-judgment. Tell yourself that you are enough and complete exactly as you are. We tend to spend way too much time judging ourselves for not doing what we should have done. When you notice yourself judging something you've done or a thought you had, stop the thought pattern, and practice being loving rather than judgmental towards yourself. 

- Support someone, rather than worrying, helping, or fixing. Ask someone if they need anything from you before assuming, show interest in their lives, be supportive about a decision they've made. Remember that worrying does nothing positive either for you or that person, but your support can show them how much they mean to you and allow them to be your equal.

- See reality for what it is. Try to go into a situation without expectations of how you think it should go. Try to allow the world to play out and see it as is rather than getting upset or angry for it not playing out how you would have liked it to. See how you feel about the situation once you've done this. Is frustration replaced with a sense of letting go, acceptance, contentment? 

That wraps up the first of ten yamas and niyamas posts. I hope learning about living a life of non-violence and what causes violence has been helpful. If you try any of these exercises, let me know how it went in the comments below.

Until next week,

- Namaste

This is the first installment of a ten post series covering the yamas and niyamas of the eight limbs of yoga.