The 8 Limbs Series – Ahimsa: Compassion and Nonviolence

2019 is here and feels magical! There is a renewed since of energy that every New Year brings, and with it I have decided to embark on a series of blogs for the year. I am starting at the very core of what yoga is and how we can carry it into the world and manifest it into everyday life. My series will include the 8 Limbs of Yoga originally written by Patanjali thousands of years ago. Think of the 8 Limbs as the foundation or even the 10 Commandments of Yoga. This series can be thought of as guidelines or motivation to allow the practitioner to lead a happier and more balanced life.

If the 8 Limbs are like the 10 Commandments then the first limb could be consider the Golden Rule. It is kind of like “Do unto others as you would have done onto you.” Ahimsa, or nonviolence, is the very foundation of the guides that will allow you to become more balanced and happier. In the Western world, nonviolence may seem very passive and subtle. We are fed violence in entertainment and it is very familiar to us but at the same time our morals tell us it is wrong to hurt others or ourselves. Maybe the thought of nonviolence is rather skewed because it is so engrained in pop culture. However, in Eastern thought it is said to be at the very core of philosophy. 

In modern times, things move at a very fast pace. Humans are left with more stress and tension in their daily lives than any other time in history. Tension and stress take on many forms, and when ignored, can be explosive and harmful to you and others around you. We can feel fearful, rushed, off balance, and powerless, and left talking down to ourselves.

Being Courageous

Violence often comes from a place of fear and manifests into anger, jealously, depression, anxiety, pride, wrath, or greed. Ahimsa asks that we find courage to overcome fear. In the book, “The Yamas and Niyamas: Exploring Yoga’s Ethical Practice” By Deborah Adele, courage is described as “not the absence of fear, but the ability to be afraid without being paralyzed.” 

Sometimes it is harder to be kind to ourselves than other people. For me, I start with others. Walk through the day without inflicting harm onto others. Say a kind word or do a kind gesture. If someone is being bullied, find the courage to stand up and stick up for them. If someone is spitting hate, find the courage to stand up and shut them down. Staying silent against violent actions and words can be oppressive and another way of giving your power away.   By allowing the violent words of another person to be challenged, you are helping to end a cycle of violence in the world. This can be done with love and kindness because, often, those who choose to spread violence and hate are often those who are in the most pain.

Practicing nonviolence to yourself is usually more challenging. Either because of traumas inflicted upon us or the constant bombardment of information that tells us how to look and be can take us to a place of self loathing. Kindness onto ourselves comes from a lot of practice. We may wake up feeling like we’re not smart enough, or pretty enough, or “whatever” enough. But here’s the thing, there is only one “You”. As corny as it sounds, there is no one on earth that is capable of being you. You can use this to your advantage. Wake up in the morning and immediately say one nice thing about yourself. Maybe you really like the color of your nail polish or you’re having a good hair day. Let it be as big or small as you like but make it a habit. Misery loves company. Have the courage to overcome and say “not today Satan!”

Balance Creates Harmony

Too much unbalance in life is another form of violence to ourselves, and can be to others. When we do not get enough sleep or eat too much junk food, for example, we are shocking the system and creating unease in our equilibrium. As a result, we can become irritable and snappy or just all around unsatisfied. Too much disconnect can lead to an unhealthy mentality. Too much time at work or not taking time to do something you enjoy can fill your mentality with false hope that “one day things will get better”.

Balance comes from listening. There is stimulation all around us, but if we learn to listen to the inner voice, our gut, our intuition, the place where our wisdom lies, we can learn to love ourselves and be our greatest teacher. This way, we tap into that place of love and compassion that is at the center of all things. Not only that, but if we learn to listen to our bodies, we can learn when we are full or when we’ve had an overabundance of a certain thing. Our bodies need balance to stay healthy in order to take us into old age. Listening to our bodies also balances out our emotions and helps us recognize them as soon as they pop up. By listening and creating a balanced life, we are living a life of nonviolence to ourselves and the outer world.

Nonviolence Leads to Empowerment

As stated before, violence and harm come from a place of fear. Those who inflict harm on others usually do so as a defense mechanism to cope with unresolved past traumas. One way of defeating this sense of powerlessness is through feeling gratitude. Can you think about the worst time it your life? Maybe you’re in it now. How did/does this feel? Can you think of a person or thing or time out of all the darkness where something made you happy or was there something that you enjoyed? Maybe its a person that has never given up on you or loved you unconditionally. For me, when I was in my darkness place, I thought about my father and how he loved me through it. Maybe it’s something different for you. Maybe its painting or making music. Find your feeling of empowerment and live in it. Through gratitude we are reminded of love and perspective. Often, understanding that we are not alone is a huge way to gain back power. By walking in our power, we can achieve nonviolence.

Compassion and Empathy

When self love cannot be achieved, we can often translate our own self loathing onto others. In order to to not look at our own flaws, it can be easier to judge others and criticize them. This comes from our own ego’s sense of failure and fear. Sometimes we can think we know what’s best for others and try to drill our own ideologies into them. We can never know the whole story of another person because we have not walked in their truth. We only walk in our own truth. By telling others how or what they should be, we are inflicting harm onto them. We must, instead, listen to others and know that their narrative is their perception of reality and develop compassion and empathy.

Compassion can be develop through support. Be the person that someone can call when they need to talk. Everyone needs a friend and by listening without judgement we can be a great ally to someone in need. Since we are all in this Earthly journey together we should lift each other up and be kind because the very core stresses of life are already testing us. Compassion and empathy come fro the heart, the very source of love. Reach into this place and expand it so that its energy moves out into the world.   

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