Do No Harm: The Art of Ahimsa



The following is from an article in Yoga International

Ahimsa (non-violence), the first and foremost of the five yamas (restraints), described in the Yoga Sutra, entreats us to live in such a way that we cause no harm in thought, speech, or action to any living being, including ourselves.

In its pure form, ahimsa is the spontaneous expression of the highest form of love – an unconditional loving regard for everyone and everything.

The sages say that to create a peaceful, harmonious environment at home, at work, or in our community, we must first find peace within ourselves. This is a process. By observing our habitual reactions and their consequences, we can learn to stop, take a deep breath, and readjust. As we step back and witness, we can choose to respond in new, more loving and accepting ways.

And committing to a daily meditation practice can help. Even meditating for five minutes deepens our connection with the inner source of unconditional love and wisdom. The sages tell us that if we honor this daily commitment, slowly, over time, our meditation will loosen – and eventually untie – the subtler knots that bind us at an unconscious level.

Himsa (violence) arises out of fear, and fear leads to insecurity, which causes us to feel separate from others – alone and misunderstood.

Ahimsa, however, at its core, points to the underlying unity in all creation – at the deepest level, we are one and the same. This awareness gradually unfolds as we progress in our practices. As we choose to live more from our inner center and feel this sense of oneness with others, our personality expands and we become more kind, loving, forgiving, and compassionate.

We come to understand that when we hurt others, we also wound ourselves; and when we don’t take care of ourselves, we negatively affect those around us.

The more we can accept and enjoy ourselves, with all our faults and idiosyncrasies, the more we can accept others.

This doesn’t mean that we should become a martyr or a “doormat,” mistakenly suppressing our own needs to take care of others. I like to remember the wisdom of the sage who reminded a bruised and battered snake he had once advised to practice ahimsa: “I told you not to bite, but I didn’t tell you not to hiss.”

When ahimsa is mastered, the Yoga Sutra (2.35) says, one attains the siddhi (power) of peacefulness, and whoever is in the presence of such a person feels peaceful. By taking care of our needs in a balanced and clear way we become healthy, happy, and calm.

Then, from that place of balance and wholeness, we naturally want to extend ourselves to others – our family and friends, co-workers, community, the earth, and even our adversaries – in loving service.

This is ahimsa in action.


Here are 3 Tips & 2 Guided Meditations to Expand Your Self-Compassion

  • Treat yourself as you would a friend
    • Many of us seem to be better at being compassionate to others than to ourselves. But we can extend the feeling of loving connectedness that we cultivate with others to ourselves as well. Next time you get frustrated and feel tempted to berate yourself, treat yourself with kindness instead as you would a best friend when he or she is suffering. Consider writing yourself a letter or even just a paragraph from the perspective of a really good friend.
  • Hold painful emotions with love
    • When a difficult situation arises and you’re feeling depressed, fearful, sad, or whatever painful emotion you might be feeling, hold those painful emotions with love and watch how you’re calmed and soothed by this action. Instead of just feeling the suffering, you’re also feeling the loving, connected presence that’s holding the suffering. This doesn’t make the painful experience go away, but it can help you tolerate it with kindness and patience.
  • Put your hand on your heart
    • Simply put your hand on your heart and let this be a reminder to turn some love inward. Research is pretty clear on the fact that the more self compassionate you are, the more you’re able to sustain being compassionate to others.


Loving and Listening to Yourself Meditation

This meditation explores the value, importance and transformative power of Self Love, and is the meditation I led you through at our last webinar



Blessings of Love Meditation

A blessing is whatever reminds us of the sacred loving presence that shines through all of us. This meditation is a transformational practice in receiving and offering blessings.

First we connect with the vulnerable tender place within us that longs to feel loved, and call on loving presence to bless us. By imagining and allowing ourselves to receive love, our hearts become open and filled with light.

We then bring that inner loving presence fully alive as we offer blessings to other beings. The image of receiving a kiss on the brow, and offering one, is suggested as a powerful channel for the blessings that awaken our heart.



Ahimsa Journal Prompt

Even though I’m a writer, putting pen or pencil to paper is still an act of courage for me, especially when it involves self exploration through journal writing.

And even though I’m a yoga teacher, I have by no means mastered the practice of yoga, including the yamas and niyamas, and ahimsa.

Lately, I’ve been feeling a fair amount of anger, to the point where I’ll think or say something to myself that is violent, usually directed toward someone else, though sometimes toward myself (and really it always comes back to me and my own insecurities, fears and wounds).

So, if I was taking a course like this one and received this journal prompt my first reaction would be avoidance. I’d most likely immediately think, “I don’t have time for that.” I’d then realize that it scared the bejesus out of me and then I’d be left with the choice of either running away from that fear, or facing it.

As fear arises, breathe into it with compassion, with ahimsa.

Meet fear with love.

Remember that there is no right or wrong with journal writing. You are not getting graded on this. You can write anything. Let yourself go. Gently release your inner critic, it’s speaking from a place of fear. With lovingkindness allow yourself to write, breath by breath, word by word.

Here are some questions for you to explore ahimsa (non violence) in your life:

  • What does harm mean for me?
  • Am I physically abusive to anyone (including myself) or anything?
  • Do my words hurt? Did anyone let me know I have hurt them with words? Have I ever noticed I have hurt someone with my words?
  • Do I hurt myself with my words? What if someone else calls me the names I call myself, would that hurt?
  • Do I have hurtful thoughts? About what or who?


Courage dear ones.

Be honest and compassionate. And know you’re not alone. As I shared above, I’ve been having a lot of angry thoughts these past few months.

And if a yoga teacher has these thoughts then you can too!

The best way to gently release anger, violence, harm, is to recognize that you feel and experience it, and you are not alone. This does not make you a bad person. It makes you human.

Meet yourself with ahimsa (also often translated as compassion), no matter where you are.

This is ahimsa in action.