The Practice of Ahimsa
By Laura Warf
The holiday season is upon us. For many, it is a time filled with hustle and bustle and an abundance of social gatherings. If fatigue is present and emotions are at the surface, then being aware of the practice of ahimsa may save you from losing your cool leading to later regrets.
Ahmisa is a Sanskrit word meaning "non-violence." It is one of the five yamas, which is the first "limb" of the great sage Patanjali's eightfold path (ashtanga) as described in the Yoga Sutras.
According to the Sutras “When non-violence in speech, thought, and action is established, one’s aggressive nature is relinquished and others abandon hostility in one’s presence.” We become more understanding, more calm and steady and as a result we are perceived similarly by others, no longer provoking any form of conflict.
Ahimsa is considered to be the most important of the five types of yamas because it represents the right attitude necessary to lead a moral life. Ahimsa is the absence of violence in physical, mental and emotional forms. The practice is also about forgiveness and compassion towards the self and others.
The sages of the past practiced ahimsa as part of their spiritual development which challenges yogis on both the physical level and mental level. For example, words that can cause pain to others should not be uttered.
Regular practice of yoga can help to develop this attitude of non-harming. Yoga calms the mind, increases self-awareness and helps one to recognize the supreme expression of Self.
The Buddhist story of “the broken plate” illustrates how our words have the power to uplift another person or to tear them down. Unmanaged anger can be harmful to both the person expressing it and to the person receiving the outburst. Although it may feel good to release pent up emotions, there are other methods of discharging energy than lashing out at others leading to unrepairable damage.
Contemplate this illustration: “A mother had a young son who had an extremely bad temper. He would often do or say some of the most hurtful things. After which he truly seemed repentant. No matter what the mother did she could not get her child to think before he reacted. One day while washing dishes she had a great idea. She called her son into the room with her and handed him a glass plate. “Throw that plate on the ground” she instructed. After some encouragement the boy did as he was told. As expected the plate broke into several pieces. “Now let’s glue this plate back together” her mother said. So they worked together for quite some time and had the plate looking pretty close to its original state, although a few cracks and chips were still visible. “Now say you’re sorry to this plate” the mother said. The son looked confused but saw his mother was serious. So he said his apology. “Now is the plate good as new?” she asked. The child shook his head no because although it was back together it would never look the same. The mother went on to explain that is what we do to the hearts of our loved ones when we are angry. Although the pain can be mended and apologies can be given the relationship will never be able to be put back together exactly the same again. It has been altered.”
So the next time you are in a heated conversation with your spouse, family member, friend or co-worker, think of the story of the broken plate and ask yourself if your reactive reply is worth the damage that can never be undone... We will always remember how someone made us feel; uplifted or depleted. Use wisdom to choose to respond powerfully rather than react to another person’s stress. This is the practice of pulling someone into your peace rather than getting pulled into their chaos. How do you choose to leave others feeling?
Practicing ahimsa generates mental fortitude. Refraining from retaliating when insulted or unjustly criticized requires more strength than fighting back. Practicing ahimsa takes courage, as only those who can resist reacting can practice ahimsa fully. The good news is, we can always begin again, this discipline as with all others offered in the wisdom teachings requires practice, so as you try this yama initially, do your best to focus on improvement not perfection, learning to flex your spiritual muscle may take some time and adaptation to your current behaviours. No worries, life will always provide opportunities to practice again!
Benefits of ahimsa include:
• Increases will power.
• Cultivates compassion.
• Develops love for self and others.
• Purifies thoughts.
• Helps to achieve peace of mind.
Laura Warf is the founder of the School of Happiness holistic wellness center whose methods are based on tools from ancient teachings to today’s current research to inspire others to take charge of their complete well-being by following her 8 essential elements to health and happiness. She is a healthy living advocate, passionate wellness educator and mind-body specialist offering retreats and services in corporate wellness, yoga, meditation, energetic balancing, and fitness conditioning. Visit www.LauraWarf.com www.SchoolofHappiness.ca