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Yoga Philosophy in 2-minutes or less: What is Ahimsa?

April 14, 2014

patanjali_statueWhere did yoga come from? A really long time ago (400 CE-ish) a man named Patanjali wrote some texts (The Yoga Sutras) which systemized the practice of yoga (even though it had already been in practice for many, many years).

The Yoga Sutras are divided into 4 books or “padas” in Sanskrit. In the “Sadhana Pada” (the chapter about the actual practice) he outlined the Eight Limbs of Yoga (Ashtanga Yoga – not to be confused with the style Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga).

These limbs, or steps are taken in order to achieve the ultimate goal of yoga which is Samadhi or “divine union with the self”. In more simpler terms, yoga is a “mind-body-spirit system for achieving self-awareness.” (Zoom in on The Yoga Poster for more details.)

OK, so this guy wrote some books and they outline how to live your life. Unsurprisingly enough, the eight limbs of yoga begin with 10 ethical principles to live by. You might think of them like the 10 commandments of yoga.


As you can see, the first yama is Ahimsa. Ahhhh, Ahimsa. This is the practice of non-violence or non-harming towards all beings (ourselves included). How can you practice Ahimsa in yoga class so that you can take those practices beyond the mat and into life? Here are a few points for reflection:

  • Compassion – towards your body’s strengths and limitations on any particular day. Can you practice within your “intelligence edge” and make wise choices about modifications and variations of the practice so they fit your needs that day?
  • Non-Judgement – of yourselves and others. Rather than “my downward dog sucks” or “her downward dog sucks” can you gently stay connected to the present moment and how the pose FEELS rather than how you think it LOOKS?
  • Non-Comparison – to you 10 years ago, to who you want to be or to someone else on the other side of the room. Can you let go of how you used to do it, how you think you should be doing it or how she’s doing it compared to you and instead opt once again to gently stay connected to how it feels right now?

What other ways can you bring ahimsa into your yoga practice?
Where else in your life can you see ahimsa being valuable?


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