“You must be the change you wish to see in the world.”
– Mahatma Gandhi
In honor of International Yoga Day, I decided to delve back into some yoga basics, asking and reminding myself what the essence of yoga really means.
To many, yoga is the physical practice and holding of poses (asana), some breath-work (pranayama) and to a few, it is also meditation. The literal translation of yoga is to ‘yoke’ or ‘bind’. Practicing yoga means bringing together mind, body and spirit to bring about peace and balance in the body.
In his book, The Yoga Sutras, Pratanjali (also known as the father of modern yoga) outlines in detail the fundamental yoga philosophy that is taught to teachers and students today. This teaching helps to guide us in the practice of yoga. The ‘8 Limbs of Yoga’ is a kind of structure or framework. To learn more about Pratanjali and his teachings read this.
The very first ‘limb’ consists of the Yamas, a list of the moral, ethical and societal guidelines for the practicing yogi. Ahimsa, non-violence, is the first Yama. By its very nature, Ahimsa is a core pillar of the yoga way of life and understanding its purpose is the very first step in any deeper yoga studies. Ahimsa can be applied to literally any area of your life but for the purposes of International Yoga Day we’ll focus on 3 key areas to get us started.
Ahimsa in Diet
It is no secret that a lot of yogis choose to be vegetarian, and maybe now it’s easier to see where this comes from. By choosing to be vegetarian we stop killing other animals. Perhaps becoming vegetarian isn’t something that you want to do or is even possible because the whole household eats meat but you could consider trying it out for just one day a week. You can find our article on Meatless Monday online now. You could also choose a vegan meal twice a week. Non-harm could also mean shopping more ethically by choosing products that don’t hurt the environment. Mix it up and find your equilibrium, always remembering to nourish yourself and your family in a healthy way so that you have energy for each new day.
Ahimsa in Asana
Simply, this means not pushing so hard that you cause injury. In more subtle ways it could mean starting out each yoga practice with the intention of honoring and respecting your body and its limitations, trusting in the process. Some days can be tougher then others on your mat and that’s the same as daily life. The practice of bringing awareness into the class room, by learning to respect your own physical boundaries and staying ‘awake’ throughout the process can help you to develop similar skills off the matt.
Ahimsa in Thought
Ahimsa in thought means being mindful with your thoughts towards yourself and others. In practice it has the ability to teach us a lot about the inner workings of our own mind and sometimes the reasons why we are motivated to do and say the things we do. By pausing and observing, not judging thoughts and feelings that arise, we can avoid inflicting ‘harm’ towards ourselves and others. In actuality it provides a kind of ‘walking meditation’ that can be practiced anytime and anywhere.
Happy International Yoga Day!