On this journey through the Yamas and Niyamas, the first stop is Ahimsa, non-harming. This is of oneself, of others, of animals, really everyone with life, and so Divine Energy. Pretty all encompassing. Yoga, in its origins is all about reaching Moksha, liberation, and doing so by practicing different techniques, often including sitting in stillness. And so it's rules and tenants allow for a better practice of that.
Consider, if you trip your neighbor at the market, later on when you're in a meditative trance, there's a really good chance your neighbor will take advantage of your vulnerable state and cause you harm in retribution. Some Instant Karma if you want to think of it that way. This might sound selfish, to only be nice to the people around you so that they don't punch you when you're not looking, but being kind is a good investment in your community. Selfish motives aside.
The same goes for your own body, if you feed it nourishing foods, abstain from smoking cigarettes, and exercise regularly (this is where asana comes in), when you ask it to sit and meditate it will be able to do so with much more ease than if you sit down with a belly full of beer and nachos and a body that's spent the day binge watching Handmaid's Tale on the couch. (and hey these examples are judgment aside, I am speaking from experience on that last one!)
This goal of Nirvana and all that, is rather intimidating, I for one haven't committed my life to that end. Obviously. I'm married, own material items, and spend my days painting for people or searching for people to buy my paintings, hardly holy work. However, this can help me towards living into my intention of having healthy, clearly defined boundaries.
Ahimsa is not just about physical violence. Of course that is off limits, as well as killing animals for their meat, hence vegetarianism. It is an all inclusive code for conduct in thought, word and deed. That means strict adherence to the adage "if you have nothing nice to say, don't say anything at all." Personally, I don't say many things that hurt people, and never intentionally. I tend to be non-confrontational and pretty good at avoiding people who inspire me to tell them off or tear them down. That being said, I get caught up in saying "yes" to things I shouldn't because I am afraid of hurting their feelings by declining their offer or request. Which is rather silly and egotistical to think their well being relies on a one word answer from me. Better to say "no thank you" or politely decline many of these offers than to hurt my own self.
Non-harming in thoughts, that is a whole other level of difficulty. The first step is identifying those harmful thoughts, be they about someone out in the world (drivers who don't signal turns or rude grocery store clerks and the like) or very likely and easily as nasty: about myself. I find calling these thoughts out and labeling them is a solid way to set up a little personal alarm system. Whenever a "you're not good/pretty/rich/worthy enough" thought shows up, like a motion sensor light I immediately say to myself "well that's not very nice," and I'll add a little compliment or mini pep talk for myself for good measure.
This is a very exhausting process at first, it's like a morning alarm clock, it can feel like I'm just pressing snooze for 4 minute breaks between negativity and resetting. But that tiresome reinforcement, I think actually helps. Eventually, my subconscious gets sick of being reminded all the time and gets with the program.
In Divine Sleep Yoga Nidra training, my teacher Jennifer Reis, really delved into the Koshas, the "sheaths" or layers or one's being. It is said that physical illness originates in the Manomaya Kosha or the "mind body". In other words, your thoughts can and do literally affect you on a physical level. Mind and body are intertwined. So it only makes sense that in accordance with Ahimsa, one's thoughts must also be of a non-violent and compassionate nature.
This Friday is my first day of training at Cafe Gratitude, a mission driven vegan restaurant in Little Italy. To contribute my fair share to this partnership (and our bank account) and to make up the financial losses from the Jeep saga, I decided to take on a part time job that is more stable than my illustration and yoga teaching careers. The service industry is something I have had mixed feelings and experiences with, so I knew while job hunting in San Diego that I wanted to work somewhere that I wouldn't have to sacrifice my values. It was very emotionally challenging for me to serve Diet Coke and chicken nuggets to toddlers every night and whiskey neats to the same customers at 11:30am day after day when I was working for a major American restaurant chain back in 2016. I feel really blessed for the opportunity to work at this particular company, and I think I'm going to meet a lot of like minded health conscious, animal and Earth loving people there.
As this commitment and practice of non-harming continues to develop, I plan to take this pledge and apply it to my choices as a consumer as well. More on that in a later post. Is Ahimsa something you practice in your daily life? Does it seem obvious and natural or do you have to work hard at staying the path?