Updated: Mar 26
Through my studies, first as a yoga teacher and now as a yoga therapist, I've had a few lessons on the Patanjali's Yoga Sutras and the 8 Limbs of Yoga. Contrary to popular belief, the practice of yoga is not limited to twisting and bending your body in weekly classes at your local studio. There is an 8-fold path that gives us the keys to living more meaningful, purposed, and fulfilling lives. The path starts by asking us to examine how we relate to and interact with our environment. Then how we relate to and care for ourselves. Finally, we turn our focus inward. Through the careful mastery of these 8 limbs, we can find a place of equanimity. Not an easy path, but definitely a worthwhile one.
For those who haven't read the Yoga Sutras, never heard of the 8 Limbs or need a refresher, they are as follows:
Yama - Restraints or abstinences
Ahimsa - non-violence
Satya - truthfulness
Asteya - non-stealing
Brahmacharya - correct use of energy
Aparigraha - non-hoarding
Niyamas - Personal observances
Saucha - cleanliness
Santosha - contentment
Tapas - discipline
Svadhyaya - self-study
Ishvarapranidaha - surrender to the divine
Asana - Postures or poses
Pranayama - Breath practice
Pratyahara - Turning the senses inward
Dharana - Focused concentration
Dhyana - Meditation
Samadhi - Enlightenment
The first two limbs, the Yamas and Niyamas, are referenced often in yoga circles and in class theming as a way for teachers to help their students deepen or expand their practice. I want a better understanding of each of these principles in actual practice and not just as a concept, so I'm going to make an effort to bring each limb into my everyday life.
This week, I will focus on the first Yama, Ahimsa. Ahimsa means non-harming or non-violence, but it's probably easiest to look at is as kindness. Kindness to others. Letting the person with one item go ahead of you at the checkout. Complimenting or extending a heartfelt thank you to a friend. Taking care of a task that needs attention without being asked. While it can be easy to be kind to others, sometimes extending that same kindness to ourselves is much harder. We are in our body 24/7, so we know all our perceived little "failures." Needed a couch day because the world is too much? We might perpetrate some violence on ourselves by thinking or even saying out loud how lazy we are. Got 17 things completed on the Honey Do List but forgot to grab one thing at the store? Oh, how badly we might talk about ourselves to ourselves.
Am I the only one that does that?
Practicing Ahimsa on the mat is no different. We treat ourselves gently, both mentally and physically. Use props, even if you have a lot of flexibility, to find more space, more breath, and more length. Try a restorative or yin class as an alternative to a vinyasa practice.
By not choosing violence, we are practicing Ahimsa. By taking time for self-care, we are practicing Ahimsa. By giving from a place of abundance rather than scarcity, we are practicing Ahimsa. We work to extend kindness and compassion to ourselves so that once that's mastered, extending it to others will be second nature.