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Ahimsa: Practicing Non-violence

Yoga Sutra 2.35: "In the presence of one firmly established in non-violence, all hostilities cease." Today we examine the first Yama in the Yoga Sutras, "Ahimsa" or "Non-violence". This yama is considered to be the foundation for all the yamas that follow. Non-violence or Non-harming - means not harming ourselves, each other or nature with our thoughts, words, or actions. It is all-inclusive. By practicing loving kindness and compassion we not only raise our own energy vibration but we affect the vibrations of those around us as well.

There are many parts to this yama I could focus on, but today, I want to talk about practicing non-violence and compassion towards OURSELVES.

"Just as a flower begins its journey from a seed beneath the earth, non-violence begins out of self acceptance and love of the true Self...," Dorna Djenab writes on, "Thoughts of guilt, shame, resentment, disappointment all have a seed of violence within them. Words like *should* and* must* are the same. When we are unable to forgive ourselves or someone else, when we carry resentment; when we expect far too much of ourselves and put the responsibility of the whole world on our shoulders; when we expect the whole world to run according to our liking we are being violent towards ourselves and the rest of the world. When we don’t act according to our truth, but out of our fears, we are being violent to ourselves... Truth and nonviolence are inseparable. As Ghandi said: When I look for Ahimsa, Truth says, ''Find it through me.'' When I look for Truth, Ahimsa says, ''Find it out through me.'' (Read more at:

This is one I struggle with in my own life. As a practicing yogi, I am often hard on myself when I feel I should handle difficult situations better. I have a daily practice of asana, pranayama and meditation that prepares me for going out into the world and yet, when I open the door and step outside, I am still sometimes knocked off course by what I encounter. We've all had that experience of feeling great after our yoga practice, or meditation or perhaps after a religious service or prayer and then getting knocked off balance by someone else's unkind words or actions and perhaps not handling them in the way we feel we should. Sometimes it can even be our own actions that knock us off balance!

Case in point. Last week, I prepared to get an MRI for my shoulder. The radiologist could not have been kinder or more helpful. I let him know that I have claustrophobia and have never had an MRI before. He helped me get onto the stretcher-like bed and gave me earplugs and headphones. I thought to myself, "This isn't all that bad. I'm a yogi - I will just close my eyes and meditate and I will be done in 30 minutes." The second I was inside the MRI "tunnel" I had a panic attack and immediately pulled myself out. "I can't do this." I told him. "I feel so stupid and silly." (notice the words of self-harm). "No problem" he said, "This happens to about 15% of the people we see. We'll reschedule you for one of our facilities that has an open MRI machine." Never-the-less, I left feeling like an idiot and a failure, because I made myself feel that way. I have a phobia. It is psychological. Maybe one day I will be able to overcome it, but it wasn't that day. Eventually, I was able to let it go - by practicing self-love, making myself some tea, taking the dog for a walk in nature and finally, cutting myself a break.

Self-love doesn't come easy. Our minds are filled with the words we grew up with - the expectations of our families, our teachers, our friends and partners. We need to practice daily loving ourselves and letting go of those expectations. If we don't have kindness and compassion for ourselves, how can we have it for others? In fact, if you find yourself judging others for their behaviors, you might reflect on your own behavior and see if you might not be unfairly putting your own expectations upon them.

So, how can we practice self-love? Through a daily practice of meditation, prayer, listening to music, reading poetry, taking a walk in nature when we need it - through connection with our higher selves - the Source, God, Goddess, Great Mystery or whatever you choose to call it; By remembering that we are both Divine and Human and by practicing forgiveness - not only towards others but towards ourselves; By loving our own inner child and letting her be free to make mistakes without judging her too harshly - in so doing, we raise our vibrational frequency and that raises the vibration for those around us too!

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