Ahimsa is a term meaning "do no harm". The word is derived from the Sanskrit root hims - to strike; himsa is injury or harm, a-himsa is the opposite of this, i.e. non harming or nonviolence. In general, I consider myself a pretty non-violent person. I am caring and am continuously trying to understand other people. Still, I often cause harm through ignorance and misunderstanding. It is easy for many of us to forget about the importance of being more than "good" - the importance of being intelligently good.
At the beginning of this week, I carried out a violent action. In the effort of challenging myself, I went too far and strained my upper hamstrings. As yoga practitioners, we have all been there. There are times when we ignore the limitations of our bodies and push for what we want - flexibility and a more beautiful asana practice. When we do this, we are in truth, acting violently. As teachers, it is imperative to learn how to use ahimsa in relation to our bodies, and to encourage this practice with our students.
In our philosophy class, we have discussed the concept of ahimsa and its application at length. The term often rouses much debate over interpretation and how it should be applied in resolving conflicts at both the interpersonal, and personal, level. How can we practice ahimsa with others and ourselves? What are the benefits?
One of the most famous examples of a human being practicing ahimsa is Mahatma Gandhi. On Saturday morning, students gathered with pillows, yoga mats, and popcorn to watch the 1982 biographical film based on the life of this famous man who led the nonviolent resistance movement against British colonial rule in India in the first half of the 20th century. Gandhi provides an exceptional example of how one might attain freedom through the practice of ahimsa. In his words, "True ahimsa should mean a complete freedom from ill-will and anger and hate and an overflowing love for all."
We all know that it is difficult to develop, and even conceptualize, an overflowing love for all. Instead, it is easier for each of us to think of being less violent in our every day lives. In this effort, it is important to recognize that violence exists on three levels. First, we need eliminate violence from our actions. Then, it is important to also eliminate violence from our words and thoughts. It is only when "the overflowing love for all" is developed at each of these levels, that we are able to be completely free... and have the most beautiful yoga practice of all.
p.s. - don't worry, my hamstrings are recovering well! :)