Yoga On & Off the Mat: 4 Hot Takes on Ahimsa (Non-Violence)


In Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, ahimsa (non-violence) is the first of the yamas (ethical guidelines for living mindfully and peacefully). Ahimsa is the principle of non-violence towards all living things. It encompasses all people, plants, animals, the environment and even how you treat yourself. Ahimsa is the idea that we need to carry more compassion with us in our daily lives, reflecting on how our individual choices affect us and the world. It is also a useful lens through which to view physical yoga practice or asana.

We’ve come up with four ways for you to practice ahimsa on and off the mat along with affirmations for each one.

Non-Violence Towards Others

Ahimsa of relating

This concept encompasses not only physical violence, but mental and emotional as well. It is just as important to speak kindly and think kindly about folks as it is to not throw rocks at them. Everyone we meet has their own story, their own path; Ahimsa reminds us to be respectful of this. Compassion and forgiveness are two tools that can help us interact in a constructive way, without being negative.

How does it relate to your yoga mat? Don’t think about how others around you in class are more flexible, or what the teacher said was silly. Maybe she was a ballet dancer? And maybe, your instructor forgot their coffee before the 9am class.

Humans make mistakes. I am human. They are human.

Radical Self-Love

Ahimsa and you

Yoga can help us feel our bodies deeper and tune in to what our bodies experience on a day-to-day basis. Ahimsa represents a practice of listening to this experience and maybe finding some bad habits. It’s staying positive in your thoughts, not doubting or shaming. It’s eating food that is good for you and taking rest when needed.

When it comes to stretching on your mat, it’s noticing when a pose feels uncomfortable to the point of pain and learning to back off. Above all, ahimsa reminds us to check in with ourselves in the midst of our busy lives and to put our own physical, mental and emotional health first.

I am strong, I am whole, I am complete.

Get Your Asana On

Ahimsa on the mat

Ahimsa goes both ways. Be aware of when you need rest and back off, but also when you need to push yourself. While we may not always want to, asana is a great way to challenge our bodies and minds. Often while practicing yoga, you can feel stressed, anxious or uncomfortable in a pose, and you might shy away from it. Finding Ahimsa means greeting that feeling of slight discomfort and continuing to stay in the pose both mentally and physically.

It is in this way that the physical practice makes us stronger. Practicing ahimsa means making it to your mat, often, and putting in the effort.

I use asana to strengthen my body, I am grateful for the sweat.

Meet Your Meat

Ahimsa for the planet

What we eat affects not only our own health but that of the world around us. Certain foods can have a much greater negative impact on the environment, as well as on other cultures. Eating a diet of mostly plant-based foods can cut down on your environmental impact while offering a physically clean source of nutrients.

You may find that downward dog feels a little easier when you’ve been eating lentils and broccoli. No matter what’s on your plate, give thanks. Appreciate the food for what it is about to provide to you and for the journey it took to reach your plate.

I am thankful for this meal and all beings that made it happen.

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