The Life Changing Practice of Ahimsa

Completely relaxed, floating, free from worries, full of bliss - this state we arrive at during Savasana hasn't always stayed with me as long as I’d like.  Sometimes I'd carry it just a few blocks from the studio before someone did something that disturbed my mind and sent the effects of blissasana away. My teacher, Sri Dharma Mittra’s very simple words have helped me shift this. Whenever he is asked how to respond to someone else’s perceived lack of enlightenment his answer is the same, “why are you focusing on them?”

Focusing on others is a huge obstacle on the yoga path. After my first teacher training I was so inspired by the beautiful teachings of the practice that I desperately wanted to share them with family and friends. This, of course, is the trap. Many of us become little yoga terrorists - focusing on trying to “fix” others and sharing the teachings instead of dedicating our lives to truly understanding and embodying them.

It’s easy to see where others fall short, how others harm, when others compromise their integrity. Seeing ourselves clearly is not so simple. Many of us feel deep shame about the darker aspects of our egos. Being brilliant manipulators, our egos do whatever it takes to prevent us from peeling through the layers of ourselves and arriving at a state of being that is connected to the indescribable trust and love beyond them. It is easy to focus on the faults of others. Exploring the depth of our own shortcomings and dealing with our own guilt, shame and confusion require great courage. Dharma prescribed the perfect exercise to support our path of self discovery - daily journaling on ahimsa. 

Ahimsa, the first “yama” or ethical rule of yoga, is simply defined as causing no harm in thought, word or action. Very easy to say, but once I started observing myself closely, I realized how frequently harmful thoughts race through my mind. Judgement is usually the source of these thoughts. After about a week of journaling daily on ahimsa and how I had violated it each day, I started noticing some of my faults before I attempted them. I would catch myself as I began to judge someone’s actions and motives, or spoke unnecessary words that riled up anger and frustration. I would hold my tongue when it wanted to bring up controversial topics that I knew would lead to fearful, disempowering dialogue. Being able to see some of my less enlightened actions more clearly has been a huge gift, one that I am working hard to receive everyday.

Ahimsa is not just defined as non harming. It is also defined by its positive aspect - unconditional love. Ahimsa may seem like a simple childhood teaching that is nice to read about but not worth practicing, or maybe our egos have convinced us that we already follow it and there is no need for us to look closer. After spending four months in Dharma’s presence experiencing what it is like to be around a human who has dedicated his life to this practice, I’ve realized it just may be the most powerful thing we we ever do.

Ready to Experience This Practice for Yourself? Here are three simple steps to integrating the powerful practice of ahimsa into your life:

1. Start Your Day With Ahimsa as Your Intention  - Set aside an amount of time that is easy for you to commit to first thing each morning. I recommend 2-10 minutes. Begin your day reading about, meditating on, or journaling about ahimsa. Set the intention to do your best to follow ahimsa for the day.

2. Watch Yourself Like a Science Experiment - This is the fun part! As you go through the day watch what your mind does. Watch the thoughts that come in and how your ego responds to each situation. Constantly ask yourself if your actions are harming and remind yourself that being kind is more important than being “right". Try your best not to take any actions that disturb the minds of others or hinder their happiness.

3. Reflect at the End of the Day - Set aside 5-10 minutes at the end of the day to write about your experience. How did you harm others? What triggered you to act in this way? Is there a different way you would like to respond in the future? How will you shift this moving forward? Remember during self reflection to always have compassion for yourself. Do not journal in a self loathing way. Be grateful that you are putting in the effort to become more loving and peaceful. 

“See yourself in others. That, I think, is the secret.” ~ Sri Dharma Mittra