Every January we celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day with performances, ceremonies, and rallies. Part of King’s studies were the non-violence teachings of ahimsa which Gandhi used when working for independence in India during the 1940s. Ahimsa is the first principle of yoga.
Ahimsa means the non-harming of all living beings. It is one of the five yamas or restraints which make up yoga’s code of conduct. Ahimsa espouses non-violence and calls us to work towards loving kindness. In the practice of ahimsa every word, thought, or action involving judgment and hate is considered a form of violence. We work to cultivate a pure heart. Of course, it is impossible to do this perfectly, but every time we catch ourselves and release a hurtful thought or choose not to act hurtfully we are practicing ahimsa.
In yoga class, or during a yoga practice at home, we pause at the beginning to set an intention that is in accord with ahimsa. We try not to strain, push, or compete. We try not to berate ourselves when we fall out of a balancing pose. We do not criticize another student or how they do their practice. Ahimsa is challenging but is central to yoga.
As we prepare for Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebrations, we remember many of his teachings. Dr. King reminds us that “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
Here are some suggestions for integrating ahimsa into your life.
• Before your day begins, and before your yoga practice, set an intention for peace and compassion.
• Take steps to let go of negative thought patterns, the inner critic and unhealthy choices.
• Take five minutes for deep breathing to focus on compassion towards others and yourself.
• Practice yoga poses that open up the heart area to cultivate a deeper sense of compassion.
• Study the life of Gandhi or King and how they used non-violence in their work and lives.