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Yamas, Niyamas, and Ahimsa

JUNE 11, 2017

Yamas, Niyamas, and Ahimsa

Deeper into Yoga. Practicing yoga is more than the physical. While you may choose to roll out your mat seven days a week, to truly embody what it is to experience yoga draws upon a deeper philosophy that applies to all moments of everyday life. In amongst the foundations that support yoga, we find the principals of yamas and niyamas, out of the eight limbs of yoga.

What are Yamas and Niyamas?
Yamas, in accordance to the Yoga Sutras of Pantajali, account for the first of these eight limbs. Yamas refer to the ‘Laws of Life’ and are comprised of five separate principals for which to live by.  Niyamas, or ‘Rules to Live By’, make up the second limb, and are comprised of another five principals.

Over the course of the next few months, we will be discussing these principals and what they mean to your practice. 

The first yama – ahimsa, is one preached in class on an ongoing basis.  Loosely translated to the art of nonviolence, ahimsa refers to a place of compassion and kindness.  In a physical asana practice, ahimsa is perhaps an easier concept to grasp, but harder to put into practice.  Non-violence to oneself sometimes means holding back from the depth of a posture in order to achieve the depth of the intention behind it.   Cognizantly removing the ego from one’s yoga practice is no easy matter, but necessary if one is to experience yoga from a place of nourishment and mindfulness.

What does this mean off the mat?
Ahimsa translates conveniently into our internal dialogue as well.  Harmful thoughts can be a natural part of many people’s patterns, and often they are not even recognized.  Violence doesn’t just refer to the obvious, it refers to thoughts of guilt, resentment, disappointment and many other negative responses to the world around us.  By learning to observe these thoughts with a sense of objectivity and mindfulness, these patterns over time can be broken and space can be made for more positive and beneficial dialogues. 

Off the mat, we look to ahimsa as a way to engage with our environment.  From relationships with other people, to how we make impactful choices, ahimsa guides us through a least harmful path.  By practicing ahimsa, it is possible to live within a higher degree of peacefulness that promotes a loving openness available to greet all that life has to offer up. 

How do we add ahimsa to life?
Now, I know what you are thinking.  Does this mean you must be fearful of stepping on ants or hurting people’s feelings to engage with ahimsa?  Of course not!  And quite the contrary, the root of ahimsa is to live free from fear!  Start with little things, mindful things.  Your yoga mat is a great place to begin!  Try dialling back on the depth of a posture that perhaps doesn’t always feel great for you.  Become aware of what feels good for you rather than breaking yourself to  achieve the level you wish to be capable of!  Practicing these ideals on your mat will eventually spill into other aspects of your life.  Eventually you will discover a way to act from inner truth, ahimsa’s best friend and the yama Satya, which we will discuss in a few weeks with our next yama blog post! 

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