What is the meaning of Ahimsa?
The original meaning of Ahimsa is ‘non-violence’. The Sanskrit word can be split into Himsa, which means “to cause pain” and A, which means “not”. So the original meaning of Ahimsa is the absence of violence in a physical, emotional and mental way. The non-violence should be practiced not only towards other humans, animals, nature and ourselves.
In a broader sense, Ahimsa doesn’t only mean non-violence, but also having positive attitudes like love, compassion and to living a moral life.
Where does Ahimsa originally come from?
Ahimsa is the first element of the five Yamas. Yamas are like a code of conduct in yoga on how to interact with our external world. And they are an essential part of what is known under the “Eight Limbs of Yoga” (Astanga).
The eight limbs or branches of yoga are an ancient guideline on how to live a purposeful, fulfilled life with the goal to find the inner light of wisdom.
Read more: The Eight Limbs of Yoga explained
How to practice Ahimsa in our everyday life
Ahimsa is practiced as part of our spiritual development.
To use Ahimsa in day-to-day situations might be a huge challenge though. As interactions with others often trigger negative emotions like fear or anger, old habits and emotional patterns naturally show up. To stay calm here, not fighting back and staying compassionate when others offend you needs a lot of courage, willpower and mental strength.
Let’s just take a friend as an example. He or she says something really bad to you. Something that triggers a series of negative emotions. This hurts you and you’re getting angry inside.
Try to observe what exactly makes you feel so angry here. Why do you have those negative reactions to what your friend just said to you? Where in your body do you feel these emotions?
In many cases, our reactions to others just show up because they affect us from our past. Take over the role of an observer. This will help you to handle those situations better instead of judging your friend for the words he just used. You will be able to speak about this topic more easily and objectively afterwards – promised.
Remember, nothing what has been said is necessarily true, until it concerns you.
Try to use our tips for practicing Ahimsa
- Creating an awareness for our emotions, needs, values, fears and thought patterns. For example: “I’m not good enough”, “I can’t do this”, “she doesn’t like me because she always looks at me like this”.
- Observing your body: where do you feel those emotions? What happens, when you send your awareness to those areas in your body and breathe into it?
- Where you send your attention, there your energy flows. Try to not waste too much energy on negative thoughts and emotions.
- No judgement and comparison with others as we are practicing yoga. Ahimsa reminds us to be gentle to ourselves and to know our limits on the mat.
- Start noticing positive characteristics about yourself and about others. Slowly transform your focus from negative to positive things. Treat everybody with respect, love and compassion.
Benefits of using Ahimsa
Using Ahimsa on a regular basis, you will notice more fulfillment in your life, a peaceful mind, more willpower and loving kindness to yourself and to others.
Further readings about Ahimsa and the Eight Limbs of Yoga: The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali by Sri Swami Satchidananda.