Ahimsa – Non-Violence and Mental Wellbeing

In honour of Mental Health Awareness Week starting next Monday, we’ll be talking about mental health topics for the whole of this month. Mental illness is something that impacts almost everyone; whether you have your own mental health struggles or know someone who does. The past year has really highlighted the importance of mental health awareness, connection, and self-care.

Real transformation happens when we start practicing yoga in all aspects of our being. Today we wanted to share our thoughts on ahimsa, the Sanskrit term for non-violence, and how we can use this concept to support ourselves and others.

Ahimsa

Ahimsa is the first of the Yamas, the Yogi’s moral and ethical guidelines. The Yoga Sutras are every devoted yogi’s handbook. This text was compiled by Patanjali around the 2nd century BCE. The Sutras describe all 8 limbs of yoga; the journey to samadhi (enlightenment) through yoga. I recommend the Yoga Sutras to every yoga student – they are still as relevant today as they were 2000+ years ago! As a yoga teacher and life coach I can vouch for the parallels between modern self-development and yogic spirituality, and the Sutras provide an invaluable framework for inner work and realigning with our true selves.

On the surface, ahimsa, or non-violence, can appear like a moot point. Stay away from fights and you’ll be alright, yeah? Ahimsa, like many Sanskrit terms, goes a lot deeper than this. Non-violence applies to more than just your fists, and ahimsa encourages us to examine the way we think about and treat ourselves and others. Practicing ahimsa invites us to take responsibility for our own harmful behaviour and try to prevent the harm caused by others.

Protecting ourselves and others through ahimsa

One of the classic examples of this is a story told in the Vedas, a collection of philosophical teachings from Ancient India. A wondering monk, or sadhu, entered a village where he encountered an aggressive snake terrorising the villagers. The sadhu spoke with the snake and educated him on ahimsa.

The following year the sadhu returned to the same village, where he met the snake once again. And how the snake had changed! He was skin and bone, beaten and downtrodden. The sadhu asked the snake what had happened. The snake explained how he had taken ahimsa to heart and had stopped terrorising the village. But because the snake was no longer formidable, the village children threw rocks at him and chased him away. He was too scared to even leave his hiding place to hunt for food.

The sadhu shook his head. “I did advise against violence”, he said, “but I never told you not to hiss.”

Judgement X Martyrdom – Finding The Middle Ground

One of the biggest learnings I’ve had to do around ahimsa has been around my food choices. As an environmentally aware and socially conscious individual, I am a big advocate of doing everything I can to avoid harming any beings on this earth. Veganism therefore seemed natural and well-aligned for me. Sadly, my body couldn’t handle being plant-based. After a year of veganism -which led to terrible digestive issues, multiple tests for IBDs, low energy and malnutrition – I had to face the truth. I had been so dead set on not harming others that I had ended up harming myself.

This is where we must be very conscious about our choices. We don’t want to be judgmental or harmful, but we also must protect ourselves and avoid self-martyrdom.

Ahimsa is so important when it comes to mental wellbeing. Do you blame others for your misfortunes and avoid taking responsibility? Or do you turn on yourself when things go wrong? Practicing self-awareness can help us examine our harmful habits, allowing us to change the way we react to situations. It is important to see a situation for what it is, rather than looking through the lens of the judge or the martyr. We can then take responsibility for the role we played, with compassion and understanding.

Supporting yourself and your loved ones

According to the Yoga Sutras, when Ahimsa is mastered, one attains the power (siddhi) of peacefulness. Whoever is in the presence of this person feels peaceful. We must look after our own needs and make sure that we feel grounded, healthy, and happy. From that place we are naturally able to help those around us feel the same; our family, friends, colleagues, acquaintances, community – and the earth as a whole.

As a yoga studio we know that yoga is more than just fancy postures on our mat. If you are looking for a full transformation, check out our 1-1 yoga classes and courses that are designed to change your life, inside and out.

One of the biggest learnings I’ve had to do around ahimsa has been around my food choices. As an environmentally aware and socially conscious individual, I am a big advocate of doing everything I can to avoid harming any beings on this earth. Veganism therefore seemed natural and well-aligned for me. Sadly, my body couldn’t handle being plant-based. After a year of veganism -which led to terrible digestive issues, multiple tests for IBDs, low energy and malnutrition – I had to face the truth. I had been so dead set on not harming others that I had ended up harming myself.

This is where we must be very conscious about our choices. We don’t want to be judgmental or harmful, but we also must protect ourselves and avoid self-martyrdom.

Ahimsa is so important when it comes to mental wellbeing. Do you blame others for your misfortunes and avoid taking responsibility? Or do you turn on yourself when things go wrong? Practicing self-awareness can help us examine our harmful habits, allowing us to change the way we react to situations. It is important to see a situation for what it is, rather than looking through the lens of the judge or the martyr. We can then take responsibility for the role we played, with compassion and understanding.

How do you practice ahimsa? Let us know in the comments!

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