Ahimsa and Aparigraha

The concept of Yama may have been written by Patanjali a long term ago but it continues to be relevant, if not more relevant today. Why? During Patanjali’s time, the main issues were likely survival issues such as food, shelter and security.

Today, with technological advancements, we are faced with much more complexities. Our senses are overloaded with the constant and increasing stimuli that are bombarding us. While we seemed to have progressed, in some ways, we have actually regressed as these stimulations are taking us further and further away from ourselves so much so that we look more and more to the external to find answers and solutions.

Yama provides a solution to this by prompting us to check ourselves. It reminds us that we need to reconnect with ourselves if we are to solve our human problems. When problems arise, instead of blaming others, take responsibility and examine our role in creating them.

Take Ahimsa. The essence of ahimsa is non-violence within ourselves. When we inflict violence towards others, it is an outward manifestation of the war raging inside us. Only by stopping the war inside us can we stop the war outside of us.

Harsh words and resentment are the manifested violence that we inflict on others especially those close to us. Though not obvious, negative feelings towards ourselves such as guilt, disappointment and shame are acts of violence too.

The practice of patience is one way to implement ahimsa. Many a times, I get angry or annoyed due to expectations not being met. This arose from the ego for the ego thinks that people or situations need to meet my expectations but why should they? Once the awareness is known, the feeling of anger decreases and puts the situation into perspective. The chances of hitting out at the person diminishes and “violence” is reduced or averted.

The teaching of Master Paalu that we need to clear our karma offers another way to practice ahimsa. There is a Chinese saying that there is no end to revenges. Similarly, if someone annoys us and we retaliate, it only sows the seeds for another annoyance. Clearing this karma provides a motivation to stop myself from reacting negatively to such provocations.

Much of the effort happens in our minds. As this bad habit has been with us for so long, it takes time to kick it. It starts with us being tired of this habitual mode of operation and a desire for a new way of being.

In the context of yoga asana practice, it is useful to discuss another yama – aparigraha. In simple terms, aparigraha means non-attachment. To practice it, while I have likes and preferences, I try to be contented just as well when these likes and preferences are not met.

It is ironical but in yoga classes, it is not uncommon to see yogis having preferred places to place their mat. In popular classes, they may squeeze their way in (before yogis from the previous classes have exited) to ensure that their favourite spots are secured or give looks of annoyance to those who have occupied their spots. Even before class starts, the mind is being filled with un-yogic thoughts.

One way to implement aparigraha is to have no favourite spot in a yoga class. Once I do this, I am free from the “fear” that my practice would be affected. Any spot then becomes a good spot. Another helpful way of thinking is this : Everyone likes a good spot so why should I be the one to have it? Thinking this way helps me to reduce self-centredness and increase empathy.

Bringing this to a wider perspective, life is unpredictable. If we are cannot let go of the small things in life starting with our yoga mat, how can we let go of the bigger things that may come our way, and when they come, may come in catastrophic proportions?

Yama brings about freedom for they prevent the sowing of seeds that bring about undesired consequences. They help us lead a calmer, more centred and more aware life.

Patricia, Februrary 2016