Ahimsa is the Sanskrit word for non-violence. This is the first moral practice in the 8 Limbs of Yoga, aka Ashtanga Yoga. Non-violence can be interpreted and expressed in so many ways.
I love to dive deeply into my conscious mind. I have found that consistent yoga practice (on and off the mat) can bring the subconscious mind into the conscious. We often wonder why we might feel angry, insecure, or lost. Practicing yoga is a tool to deepen your own personal awareness. When you practice self awareness with yoga, the "why" questions eventually get answered and you can begin to live in peace. Once we have developed a strong sense of personal awareness, then we can begin to look for the roots of our emotions/thoughts. We can begin to look for any roots of violence when we dive deeply into the conscious mind.
In the English language, violence is commonly associated with a harmful, physical act. Violent action movies, violent acts of terror, or even violent abuse. (Let's pause and take a breath/send a prayer for peace.) Physical acts of violence are very deeply festered roots. So, we must get to the beginning of our thoughts as they turn into words and actions. Are you physically violent toward yourself or another person? Begin to observe your words. Are you verbally violent to yourself or another person? Begin to observe your thoughts. Becoming aware of your own thoughts/reactions/responses is the first step towards peace.
I hope that you take a closer look at your thoughts. For the common person, violence can be hidden under layers of coping mechanisms and numbing practices. We may speak violently to ourselves about who we think we are. We may think thoughts that we may never speak to another person. Often, we are most violent towards ourselves. And even more often, we don't even know it.
Yoga philosophy teaches oneness. Yoga means to "yoke" or connect/unite. The reward for living a yogic lifestyle is Samadhi, the final step in Ashtanga Yoga. This is the fruit of lots of effort and dedication. The fruit is the ability to see the truth: that we are all one. So, if you are violent towards yourself, you are being violent to others.
Here are some awareness/mindfulness practices that I utilize to practice ahimsa:
1. Allow. Whenever I have a negative thought, I lean in. Instead of numbing or pushing it under the rug, I allow myself a few minutes to breathe deeply and dive in. I observe my thoughts, become curious, and question where they came from. Allowing myself just a minute or two of complete focus on the thoughts can often let them go.
2. Breath. The yogis say that the breath is the window to the soul. If you catch yourself with out a lot of personal awareness at times during the day (maybe 1,000 times a day...totally normal), observe your breath. If you are breathing short, shallow, fast breaths...you may be anxious or angry. If your breaths are deep, slow, and rhythmic, you are likely calm and peaceful. If you want to relax, deepen your breath.
3. Gratitude. Speak it loud, speak it proud. Whenever I am veering towards harmful thoughts, I take a few minutes to name 5 things I am grateful for. Usually my gratitude list contains people, life circumstances, healthy foods, a fresh new breath, you name it! Take time to visualize each item of gratitude, elaborate on why you are thankful for that one thing, and take a deep breath after each item. By the time I have listed 5 things, I am normally renewed and ready to live in peace!
Ahimsa can be expressed in infinite ways. There are so many beautiful possibilities to love, open your heart, and live peacefully. No matter what, ahimsa starts with you. Look deeply into your mind, cultivate compassion for things that you may not like today, and honor your strengths. Become a non-violent warrior for love.