Ahimsa – Do No Harm

Ahimsa is a Sanskrit term meaning to do no harm (literally: the avoidance of violence).  Ahimsa is an important part of Patanjali’s yoga belief.  It is one of the five Yamas (restraints), which make up the standard code of conduct, the first of the Eight Limbs of Yoga.  As applies to yoga, Ahimsa involves practicing verbal, mental and physical non-violence.   Accepting a vegetarian diet and not beating up people seems like a pretty easy way to observe Ahimsa you may think, however it goes way beyond that.

Ahimsa, truly practiced, involves removing all violent and harmful thoughts from your mind as well as actions in life.  One may find it easy to not harm animals (including insects and also by not buying animal made products) and even easier to not harm other people (as most of us do not injure other people in a physical way).  However, what about ourselves?  Can you truly say you have not had a negative thought or worse, uttered a negative comment about yourself recently?

As a woman, I think I can very easily relate to how many times PER DAY a woman has a negative thought or comment about herself, especially in regards to her physical appearance.  I have heard every woman in my family and every woman friend I have do this at one time or another.  Some do it more frequently than others.  Some have a constant negative dialog inside, but rarely speak it out loud for fear it may actually be true, or others will agree with her.  In the United States, we call it low self esteem or self-destructive thoughts, etc.  From what I’ve read and talked about with men, I believe a lot of them have similar fears and worries, they just don’t seem to let them progress to the level of obsession that most women do.   In fact, I cannot recall the last time I heard a woman actually say anything that positive or truly complimentary about herself.

Why are we so hard on ourselves? When and where did we acquire this negative self-dialog and why in goodness sake is it being passed down from one generation to the next?  Blame it on size zero models and gorgeous movie stars we can’t help but envy, however I believe the truth is we learn it from our mothers and aunts and grandmothers and the other woman matriarchs in our families.

Learning about Ahimsa has taught me a great deal about how negative and destructive this type of self-dialog truly is.  I am injuring myself, deeply, every time I think or utter an unkind comment about myself.  Why in the world would I want to do a crazy thing like that?!?!  Would you treat other people you love that way?  Would you constantly make unkind and depreciative comments about your children, spouse, etc. to them? Of course not, if you did they wouldn’t like (or love) you very much after a while, would they?

I believe it is the same with us.  It is a very negative and vicious cycle that happens.  However, being mindful of Ahimsa at least puts us on the right road to recognizing our behavior and perhaps actually being able to change it over time.  My wish for all the women I know (including myself) is that every time a negative self thought crosses our mind or lips, we remember Ahimsa and replace that negative thought with a beautiful, kind, loving one.  If everyone tried that for a just a one entire week, they might see what a difference that it could make in their relationship with themselves.  Doing no harm could actually turn out to be the change of a lifetime!