101 on the 8-limbed-path:
Patanjali (either one or many people) is the author(s) credited with writing the Yoga Sutras, around 2 centuries after the life of Jesus. The Yoga Sutras outline the 8-limbed-path to living a life of personal fulfillment and one that also benefits society.
The Eight Limbed Yogic Path:
1) Yamas (5 moral restraints)
- Ahimsa (nonviolence)
- Satya (truthfulness)
- Asteya (nonstealing)
- Brahmacharya (continence)
- Aparigraha (non-hoarding/noncovetousness)
2) Niyamas (5 observances)
- Saucha (cleanliness)
- Santosha (contentment)
- Tapas (heat, spiritual austerities, discipline)
- Svadhyaya (self-study)
- Isvara Pranidhana (surrender to a higher source)
3) Asanas (postures)
4) Pranayama (breath control)
5) Pratyahara (turning inward)
6) Dharana (concentration)
7) Dhyana (meditation)
8) Samadhi (union of self with object of meditation)
Do No Harm, but Take No Sh*t (Ahimsa)
The current post will focus on Ahimsa or non-violence. Ahimsa is the first of the 5 yamas (moral restraints), which serve to guide a ‘yogi code of conduct.’ Ahimsa does not exclusively refer to physical violence, but includes violence of words and thoughts as well. The thoughts we hold about ourselves or others can be as powerful as physical attempt to harm. The practice of ahimsa on our mats means to be kind to ourselves; maybe that means not forcing yourself into a posture once you’ve lost your breath, and rather backing out and staying at the first layer of the posture. To practice ahimsa off of our mats means to be constantly vigilant and to observe ourselves in interaction with the world and take note of our thoughts and intentions.
There is a famous story about ahimsa told in the Vedas (great collection of philosophical teachings from India). A sadhu (wandering monk) traveled annually to several villages to teach and one year he came across a snake, a notorious villain in the community; he was terrorizing the people. The Sadhu shared with the snake his teachings on ahimsa or nonviolence.
When the sadhu returned the following year for his annual teachings, he saw the snake again. The once strong, powerful, magnificent creature had transformed to a skinny, bruised, and cowardly one. The sadhu inquired as to why the snake had appeared sick, damaged, sad, and without confidence. The snake explained that he had taken the teachings of ahimsa to heart and had stopped terrorizing the village. However, as he was no longer terrorizing the people, the children had taken to throwing rocks at him and taunting him, to the point where the poor snake was scared to leave his hiding place to hunt for food and thus had become skinny and bruised.
The Sadhu was very disappointed, he shook his head and said, “I did advise against violence, but I never told you not to hiss.”
The famous story teaches us that protecting yourself and others does not violate the yama of ahimsa. To practice ahimsa means to take responsibility for your own harmful behaviors and to make an attempt to stop potential harm caused by others. Ahimsa does not ask us to be neutral, to play small, to cower away, to hide, to curl up; this is not the point at all. Practicing true ahimsa means to stand even stronger in the face of insult, to roll your shoulders back and puff up our chest when someone tells you they don’t believe it can be done or that you won’t be able to make it happen. The next time someone puts you down, know that your value does not depend on the opinion of anyone else, know that their thoughts, and words, if not delivered with a loving intention become their problem, and NOT yours.
Practicing ahimsa is to act, think, feel, and speak with the clear intention and motivation of love behind each. Go out there and be you, let the words of others bounce right off of you, and practice standing a little bit taller, and continue to act with your best loving intentions.