Ahimsa: Non-harming, harmlessness. To practice ahimsa is to not wish or do any harm to another living being.
Ahimsa is the first of the yamas in Pantanjali’s Yoga Sutras. These ethical principles, or restraints, serve as a guide for what not to do. Within the same scripture are the niyamas, which are observances that point devotees into the direction of what to do.
Traditionally, ahimsa means nonviolence and is often viewed from only a physical perspective. Yet, this yama covers much more terrain than purely physical; to practice it correctly, one must remember to include oneself.
Rather than literal acts of the body, Pantanjali was referring to the attitude of the mind. He believed that one's attitude determines their freedom (liberation of the mind) or decides their bondage (being a servant of the mind and the thoughts).
Every thought, whether about the Self or another being, matters greatly. Thoughts are energy and energy flows. To harm anyone, even with a negative thought, judgment, or an angry word, has the potential to harm the person doing the action as well as the one receiving it. Negative thinking has been known to perpetuate depression, anxiety, stress, and even lower immune function. On the other hand, positive thoughts can offer an upward change in perspective and can get us through difficult moments. With a kind word or thought, one’s mood immediately improves and we feel happier and lighter.. In addition, thoughts are energy and energy flows. Therefore, when we are negatively talking or judging another person, it is believed that the energy will eventually begin to affect that person.
Mental Exercise | Practice:
Today, watch your thoughts as often as possible. Each time you get lost in thought, bring yourself back to the present moment by noticing your breath, listening to the sounds around you, or simply feel your feet on the ground and the air on your skin. The more you practice watching your thoughts while staying present, the more aware of your thoughts you will become. Do your best to allow any thoughts to come and go without being too hard on yourself if you find your mind wandering. Do not force the process either. If it is challenging right now, in time it will become easier. As you observe what comes up, ask yourself, "Are the thoughts I'm thinking about myself/another person, kind and compassionate?" Notice any themes that arise.
How can you be kinder to yourself and to others today?