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Unity of body, mind and spirit is the fundamental purpose in our practice of yoga. To guide us in this journey, we can follow the eight limbed path. The first part of the eight limbs of yoga are the Yamas which are five rules of universal moraltity that we should strive to follow. The first of these Yamas is soemthing called Ahimsa which translates as compassion toward all living beings or non-violence.

This compassion can mean many things but as with so much in yoga, it begins within. We must practice compassion, love, understanding and non-harming towards ourselves before we can extend that outward toward others. It is so true that how we treat others comes from what we manifest in our own hearts. If we do not take time for careful self-reflection and noticing what resides in our own hearts, we can never treat others with compassion and unconditional love. Oftentimes we think of violence as being something physical - an action based word, but our words and and thoughts can be even more powerful. We should strive to abstain from causing any harm whether it is through physical harm, thoughts or words. Do you have a meditation practice? This is a great place to start establishing an attitude of Ahimsa in your life. Perhaps you begin by a short meditation on the following phrase:

"Today I will try not to speak an angry word to anyone."

You may meditate on this day after day and fail day after day, but slowly you can cultivate this attitude in your life. Mahatma Ghandi says it beautifully when he says that "Ahimsa is the highest duty. Even if we cannot practice it in full, we must try to understand its spirit and refrain as far as humanly possible from violence." A lot of times we need to simply think before we speak or act. Pause, take a step back and be more eager to listen to another with love and compassion than to blurt out whatever is on the tip of our tongue. We live in an increasingly violent society, where people are hurting and living with deep wounds. Let us try as yogis, to be an example of love and compassion to others. We may not be able to do much to change the world we live in at large but we can surely change ourselves.

In Yoga Ahimsa is translated as non-violence toward any living being, not just humans, which is why many yogis abstain from eating meat and follow a vegetarian diet. It is a question that comes up a lot, especially when students begin to look more at a yoga based lifestyle. This again, is something that you must study for yourself and align with your practice and beliefs on Ahimsa.

Ahimsa is the very first Yama, the very first part of the eight limbs of yoga. That should give us some indication of how important it is.

© Gillian Taylor 2014


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