Ahimsa: the First Yama

Ahimsa: the First Yama

Ahimsa: the First Yama

Patanjali laid out an 8 Limbed Path of Yoga to connect with the deepest layers of Self and ultimately to find happiness.  The 8-Fold Path consists of:

  • Yama (how to treat others)- non-violence, truthfulness, non-stealing, virtuous sexuality and non-attachment
  • Niyama (how you treat yourself)- cleanliness, contentment, discipline, self-study, surrender to something larger than you
  • Asana (postures)
  • Pranayama (breathwork)
  • Pratyahara (withdraw of the senses)
  • Dharana (concentration or focused mind)
  • Dhyana (meditation)
  • Samadhi (bliss or union with the divine)

Last week’s blog addressed the fact that many practitioners find something missing and work to achieve in yoga class.  When really what is missing is a deeper understanding of Yoga as a whole practice that includes body, heart and mind.  So each Wednesday I will address the Yamas and Niyamas to help give you a greater understanding of Yoga as a whole path.

The First Yama:  Ahimsa or Love in Action

Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr and Ruby Bridges- what did they know that made them raise their levels of consciousness above violence, anger, hatred, self-serving, and greed? What made them such powerful teachers? Ahimsa. This is from the first precept, or limb, of the 8-fold path of Yoga called the yamas. Yama is the way we interact with others.  Ahimsa is translated as non-violence or non-harming. Gandhi took this one step further and said ahimsa is the practice of love in action.

Ruby Bridges

Ruby Bridges as she goes to school

Gandhi credits his wife and the Bhavgavad Gita for changing him. He believed in non-violent opposition and meeting even his worst critics with love. Due to this, he was able to change India and countless lives. Martin Luther King Jr. studied the teachings of Gandhi to begin the path of non-violent opposition during the Civil Rights movement. Through his amazing words and actions, he changed this nation and changed many people’s hearts and minds. Ruby Bridges is another story entirely. This is the story of a young girl in first grade during desegregation. She did not know the teachings of Gandhi or MLK. She was one of the first children to be integrated into a white school in New Orleans. Each day as she went to school, she was greeted with death threats and harsh words. One day her teacher watched her stop in the mob and she saw Ruby’s mouth moving. When Ruby came in to the class, her teacher asked what she was saying. Ruby said she was praying to God that he would forgive the people who were so angry.

These are three examples of what love in action can do. These are grand examples, but what can we do? What can Yoga practitioners do to live ‘love in action’? What are some ways you can change your life or the life of someone around you through your care and compassion?

As parents, what we hope for, above all else, is for our children to hold this value.  As an adult, this is what I look for in a friend and partner.  As a yoga teacher, this is what I look for in a teacher (both my own and one who works with us).

The first limb of yoga is love in action.  I don’t think it is an accident that this is the FIRST precept of Yoga.  This should be the beginnings of any yoga practice.  How does this change your actions toward those around you or toward yourself?  How does this change your actions toward yourself and your yoga practice?

Each day when I speak and act- to my family, friends, co-workers, I try to feel if what I am saying is clear, kind and loving.  This simple task slows me down and ensures that I show love in action.  Be an example for those around you.  It is the greatest gift you can share… it will mean more than mere words and can change the lives of those around you.

Wherever there is a human being, there is an opportunity for a kindness.  ~Seneca


Elizabeth Delaney