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Do no harm

As we begin exploration of the yoga principles known as the yamas, this week, we turn our attention toward Ahimsa. This ethical practice of nonharm/nonviolence toward others and ourselves is the first of the five yamas. Ahimsa is considered the core of yoga philosophy, and is intended to be practiced alongside the other yamas.

A nonjudgmental and forgiving attitude is essential to practicing Ahimsa. Harming others can occur through thoughts, words, or deeds. Just as an act of violence causes both parties to suffer, both parties benefit from an act of nonviolence.

Ahimsa can be applied toward ourselves as well. Self-critical thoughts and actions such as beating yourself up about mistakes are examples of violence toward the self. Other examples include negative self-talk, putting yourself down, and refusing to accept accolades for a job well done.

If we want to cultivate nonviolence, we can consciously choose to reduce experiences that expose us to violence, including violent media images, songs, and events. According to the sage Pantanjali, one antidote to interpersonal violence is to try and understand the other side of the story and consciously respond in a nonviolent way.

Strategies for communicating nonviolently include using “I-statements” instead of “you-statements.” Before you speak, you might also consider the acronym THINK:

T – is it true?

H – Is it helpful?

I – Is it inspiring?

N – Is it necessary?

K – is it kind?

In relating Ahimsa to your own self-care practice, I invite you to ask where in your life you see opportunities to practice Ahimsa towards yourself or others.

Try the following exercise when applying Ahimsa to difficult people: Think of a person whom you often feel negative toward. Send him positive, uplifting thoughts. Practice on a regular basis and see if over time that changes the way you feel around that person.

Practicing self-compassion is an effective strategy for applying Ahimsa towards the self. Check out Kristen Neff’s self-compassion exercises.

Join me next week as we take a look at the principle of truthfulness, known as Satya.