In the yoga tradition, the yamas, along with the niyamas were introduced to children and practiced before learning asana or pranayama, or the meditative limbs. The first Yama, ahimsa is the foundation of the practice in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. It’s a Sanskrit word meaning to not cause harm or violence to yourself, to others, animals (or any living things) in thoughts or action. Even though I have not started my yoga journey from the foundation of yamas and niyamas, it’s never too late to incorporate them into my daily life whether it is on or off the mat. Practising ahimsa in asana seems more important than ever especially with the rise in yoga-related injuries.
Here are some ways to kick-start ahimsa practice in our daily life, starting now.
To know what we are consuming
Do you know where our yoga mats are produced? Most yoga mats are manufactured in mass production at low-cost countries. Was the manufacturer ethical or compromising safety measure by using PVC (polyvinyl chloride)? PVC is inexpensive and offers great gripping to mats. Toxic chemicals like Phthalates are added into PVC to make mats soft. Do we know that exposure to PVC and Phthalates through inhalation and skin contact can be harmful and life-threatening to our body? Ignorance is harmful. As much as possible, we should be inquisitive and do our due diligence to research each product before consuming it. Learn to become a more educated consumer and knowing that you’re supporting products that do not expose yourself to health risk and be aligned with your ethical standards.
Non-violence towards Earth
The amount of solid waste generated in Singapore in Year 2016 had increased to 7.81 million tones – enough to fill 3,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools. This is a crucial environmental problem as the country faces a growing mountain of trash that will otherwise need to be incinerated, leading to more greenhouse gas emissions and greater demand for landfill space. 60% of its solid waste is recycled whereas 38% of its total waste is incinerated in waste-to-energy plants. The remaining waste, non-incinerable solid waste and the ash from the incinerator plants, are buried in the landfill. This is the result of the people’s preoccupation with shopping and relentless consumption. The increase in total waste produced is “in tandem” with the growing population and its affluence. The simplest and most effective way to be kinder to the planet is mind-blowingly simple – just practise restraint and buy less crap! In 2016, Singapore generated 791,000 tonnes of food waste, about a 40 per cent increase from 10 years ago. Food wastage is created every day, in many ways. There is food that spoils faster than it should because it is not handled or stored properly. There is edible food that is thrown away simply because it does not look nice or has passed the expiry date on the price tag. And there is also food that people leave on their plate. Taking on simple habits like ordering only what we can finish, asking for smaller portions if we intend to eat less, donating excess food or joining efforts to recycle food waste can make a big difference. As responsible human, we have the greatest stake in safeguarding Mother Nature for our future generation. Our lifestyle choices will also have a far-reaching impact on natural resources.
Stop Negative and Judgemental Thoughts
Another way to bring ahimsa into life is through compassion. Very often when we are caught in a moment of anger, we will lose total control of ourselves and that will prevent our mind from seeing things in perspective, making our judgment impaired. Instead of calming down the mind, our mind kept swirling with negative thoughts. We react to our anger by slamming the door hard as a defense mechanism or worst still, causing physical harm to ourselves or onto others. We need to explore why the negativity manifests in our thoughts, and why we allow it to happen time and again? It’s really a reflection of something deeper – like old wounds in a relationship that were suppressed and yet they re-surfaced at the wrong moment. Explore deeper into that; Why did we let our mind wander to negative thoughts? Why are we blaming others and flew off the handle when things went awry? We should always put ourselves into other people’s shoes. Learn to be kind to ourselves and others by removing harmful thoughts. Convert the negative thoughts to positive thoughts. Think of the person’s strength instead of amplifying their flaws. Be forgiving and compassionate towards people who make us feel angry or worthless. Speak our truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others, even to the dull and the ignorant; they too have their story. Be tolerant towards each other and we would be able to feel a sense of calmness and inner peace.
Let go of No Pain, No Gain mentality
“No pain, no gain” mentality contradicts ahimsa. Many times our ego gets the better of us. Everyone has done it, and I am guilty of it as well when I practiced challenging asanas. It makes us feel good and gratified when we are able to push beyond our limits and endure the pain sensation. And it’s in those moments we injure ourselves as we strive hard to get better and better. Only with discipline of ahimsa, true yoga practitioners accept and appreciate where they are in their practice and finds that balance of effort and ease. Coming from a foundation of non-harming, budding yoga practitioner could approach asana practice with the intention of calming and caring for the body rather than conquering it by force. Likewise, I should let go of my ideas about how a practice “should” be and relax into what it actually is. Learn to honor each practice in the present moment and know when to push myself and when to back off. It is okay to challenge ourselves in order to grow, but never push ourselves over the edge to the point of harm. Be at the present moment, practise without an agenda—with our body, mind and breath as they are and simply allow our asana experiences to unfold moment by moment.
The concept of ahimsa is simple yet powerful; however, the practice itself is not easy. Practicing ahimsa towards ourselves requires work, time, mindfulness and a whole lot of patience. It’s the best change you will ever make in your life; observe your ahimsa blossoms and your life being transformed as you seek your true path in Yoga.
– LYCHANG (200YTT; Apr-Jun17)