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Practicing Ahimsa, On and Off the Mat

By Erin Finck

WED DEC 16, 2020

Photo by Jon Li

Ahimsa is described as compassion for all living things. It is literally translated as non-injury. Nonviolence toward yourself, other human beings, animals, and the environment. This isn’t just committing an act of physical violence. But being considerate and compassionate for all types of life.

You can practice Ahimsa on your mat. To do so, it is absolutely essential to be able to stay present. If you are not in your body, you are unable to be aware of what is going on with it. So it is using mindfulness to listen to your body, to sit with it while it is on the edge of its capacity, to allow it to relax or to melt in its own time. This is being gentle with yourself, to never force your body into doing something it is incapable of. This is learning how to work with the body, not against it. This is to give your body the permission to be challenged, but also giving your body the permission to relax, and having the wisdom to know what it is that your body needs in that moment.

Each practice is different, each day is different. This is to celebrate where your body is today, and to have compassion for wherever that is. This is learning how to know what your practice feels like, rather than worrying about what your practice looks like, and to be gentle with yourself as you explore what this is for you. This is welcoming your feelings of frustration, anger, or fatigue, rather than to let them become overwhelming to you. To let yourself feel whatever it is that you are feeling, giving yourself the space that you need in that moment. Trying not to get upset with yourself if there is something that you can’t do, or if you think that you should be in a different place than you are. Allowing yourself to flow freely with wherever is, rather than trying to resist it, is key for contentment. Giving yourself the freedom to be exactly as you are today. Don’t try to fit yourself into a box. You aren’t a box. You are beautifully and uniquely you.

Usually when people think of being nonviolent, they immediately think of not hurting others. But they forget about themselves. How many times a day do you put yourself down? How many times are you hard on yourself? How many times do you pass judgment when you look in a mirror? This can come out in ways that are not obviously harmful. Like, waking up late, causing yourself unnecessary stress and making the rest of the day difficult. This can be in the form of rumination, going over and over something that upsets you, something that is unhealthy and unproductive. Maybe you are ignoring your needs, perhaps by being aware that you are in need of some time off, but using excuses, guilt, or self-defeating thought processes to prevent you from taking it. Denying yourself sleep, exercise, healthy food, in the name of convenience or using the absence of time as your reasoning. This can go in the opposite direction, also, being so stringent about your diet and exercise habits that you end up going to extremes, threatening your safety and wellbeing. This can show up in ways of feeling stuck, persecuted, as if you are not in control of your life and the choices you make to move forward (or stay behind). This might also be refusing to seek support when you truly cannot see a way out of things, or simply just need someone to talk to.

When we can learn to welcome and accept our feelings of anger, jealousy, or anger rather than see them as signs of failure, or something to be avoided, we can allow ourselves to embrace them, go deeper, get to the root of their cause, and then move beyond them.

Once you realize that you are a part of a much greater whole, you can start to understand that doing harm against yourself is to cause harm to others, and likewise, to harm others or to cause harm to the environment is causing harm to yourself. This is to find a way to live in harmony with all living things. This is to avoid any thought, word, or action that prevents us or someone else from growing and living freely.

So, when you are off of your mat, you can practice the principle of Ahimsa in so many ways. Treat others (and yourself) with respect and kindness. This is why some yogi’s don’t eat meat. This is trying to produce the least amount of trash as possible, taking care to recycle, picking up litter whenever you can, trying to reduce your carbon footprint in as many ways as possible. This is fostering the place in your heart that can allow for the growth of compassion and empathy. Putting ourselves in someone else’s shoes, trying to be more understanding.

What does it mean for you to do good in this world? To cause no harm? What ways might you be unintentionally causing harm, to yourself, to others, in relationship, in community? If we practice presence, and authenticity, might it be possible to open ourselves up to living mindfully, consciously, and compassionately?

Copyright © 2020 Erin Finck. All Rights Reserved.