Here’s a list of simple ways to invoke a little more love and cause less harm.
Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, written approximately 2,500 years ago, provide us with one of the first and most popular guidebooks on Yoga. We’re not talking about fancy yoga sequences or how to handstand, but going back to the roots of what yoga is all about – it’s a practical guide to help achieve physical, mental and emotional harmony in life.
Within this manual, Patanjali describes an eight-limbed approach to yoga, which includes (1) moral and (2) personal guidelines for everyday life, (3) physical yoga postures, (4) working with the breath, and (5, 6, 7 & 8) four stages of mindfulness and meditation. These eight limbs form the philosophy of Ashtanga Yoga, which literally means ‘Eight Limbs’ (Ashta = eight, and ‘Anga’ – limbs). Here Ashtanga refers to both the form taught by the late Sri K Pattabhi Jois, but also the philosophy that underpins most modern forms of yoga.
The first of the eight limbs describes five Yamas (meaning moral guidelines or adherences), and the first of these Yamas is Ahimsa, so it truly is the very foundation of the journey of yoga!
Ahimsa: Non-harming (or Loving-kindness, see below)
Brahmacharya: Continence (!)
As you can see, the direct translation of Ahimsa is actually ‘Non-harming’, but for the optimist like me, it can also be understood as ‘loving-kindness’. I’m not sure that everybody would agree there, but what I mean is that when there is an abundance of love, kindness and positivity, there is simply much less space for harm!
By causing harm, we are obviously not speaking about just punching people (although that comes into it too, of course!). There are so many ways we can cause harm to the planet, to animals, to other people and to ourselves. It could be through thoughts, words and actions; through one off events in the heat of the moment, and also from our daily choices and habits.
Have you noticed that many yogis choose to be veggie or vegan? It is often down to Ahimsa and simply not wishing to cause harm to animals. What we choose to nourish ourselves with is a very personal matter, and I certainly don’t want to guilt anybody into changing their diet. However, yoga does encourage us to be mindful of our actions and choices. Choosing to eat less meat and animal products, and making sure they come from a good source (and not a factory farm) is a logical choice. Replacing animal products (partially or fully) with more whole, plant-based foods will undoubtedly help you feel good, both physically and consciously!
I love journaling! It’s a great way for me to practice more mindfulness every day. I am currently using the Daily Greatness Yoga Journal, which has a little space each day to write an inspired gratitude list. But you don’t need a fancy journal – just a little notepad by your bed, or an empty jar and some little bits of paper. The key is to thoughtfully make your list every single day to consider the things that bring you happiness. When you’re feeling happy and content, you’re much less likely to do or say something that could cause harm to yourself or others.
Nature both grounds and invigorates me at the same time and I try to spend some quality time outdoors every single day. The more time we spend outside, the more obvious our impact on the world becomes. It makes me so sad to see litter and pollution in nature and reminds me to be conscious of my choices when shopping and travelling for example (there is always room for improvement, but I feel like I’m heading in the right direction!). And going back to point 1: Eat More Plants, when we see animals in their natural environment and especially on farms, it prompts us to be conscious of their welfare too.
I’m sure we’ve all heard the saying “Your Vibe attracts your Tribe” – well that works in both directions! Surround yourself with kind, conscious, loving people and I’m sure some of their good vibes will rub off on you too!
Yoga Sutra 2.35 says: ahimsa pratisthayam tat samnidhau vaira tyagah
AHIṀSĀ PRATIṢṬHĀYĀṀ TAT SAṀNIDHAU VAIRA TYĀGAḤ
This can be translated as: “In the presence of one firmly established in non-violence, all hostilities cease.” [*]
Essentially, when a person is radiating loving-kindness, then everybody around them feels more content and less harmful too. We all know somebody who lights up the room when they walk in … spend time around those types of people!
Sri K Pattabhi Jois, the founder of Ashtanga Yoga as we recognise it in the West, is renowned for saying “99% Practice, 1% Theory”. I don’t believe that Jois saw asana, as in the physical postures, as being separate from the other seven limbs of yoga, but it’s a good place to start. Essentially if we spend more time on the mat, cultivating focus, mindfulness, a healthy body and good breathing, then that will begin to have a ripple effect in everything else we do. Simply reading about yoga is not enough, we need to put it into practice, first on the mat, and then in our day to day lives.
Remember, we’re all on a personal journey and trying to be the best versions of ourselves. Every step forwards, no matter how small, is positive. It is so much sweeter when we take time to enjoy the journey and notice the effect that little tweaks and upgrades have, rather than trying to overhaul everything at once. Be compassionate with yourself!
What are your thoughts? What helps you to practice Ahimsa and cultivate more loving-kindness in your life? I’d love to hear in the comments below!
You may also enjoy a recent Lucia Yoga blog, beautifully written by another guest teacher, Charlotte Adler:
Equanimity & Joy: A Buddhist Perspective
With abundant love, kindness and gratitude,
xx Helen xx
[*] The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. Translation and Commentary by Sri Swami Satchidananda. Integral Yoga Publications. ISBN 0-932040-38-1