Let’s start at the very beginning...Patanjali was a wise dude who lived in India a long time ago and who knew a lot about yoga! He passed on his wisdom through his Yoga Sutras. A sutra is a useful device, a short burst of words which is able to convey an awful lot to the listener or reader. He also usefully put together a simple structure for those of us on our yogic path which we call the Eight Limbs of Yoga:
- The Eight Limbs of Yoga are:
The Yamas are composed of restraints which help us to effectively "control" or direct our life. The Yamas are: Ahimsa (non-violence), Satyam (truth), Aparigraha (not wanting what others have), Brahmacharya (building energy), and Asteya (not stealing)
The Niyamas give us clear guidelines for personal development. They are: Saucha (purity), Santosha (contentment), Tapas (self-discipline), Swadhyaya (self-enquiry), and Isvara Pranidhana (focusing on the highest)
The first of these limbs he called the Yamas, or restraints, the second were the Niyamas, or observances. By exploring these, and adhering to them, we put in place a way of life... a way of living our lives from which we can then progress ever upwards to Samadhi, the state of yoga where we become united with the Divine.
Let us look carefully at the first Yama, called Ahimsa, in some detail. Now it can be translated from the Sanskrit as non-harming or non-violence and it goes much deeper than not going around hitting other people! There are many, many ways in which we can harm others, yes through physical violence, but also through our actions, through our words, through our negligence, spreading rumours, our thoughts and intentions, and countless other ways.
Quite apart from other people this also applies to all other creatures and to some extent to ‘things’, if in so doing the result of our actions cause real harm. It is not surprising then that many people on the yogic path decide to become vegetarians. And how are we harming the planet through our actions?
For many of us on this path we begin to sense a unity with all beings, that there is something ‘common’ within us all, within everything, something very beautiful, and so if we harm other beings we are in fact harming ourselves.
And then of course we must be aware of not harming ourselves in a multitude of ways....
- Not looking after ourselves properly, physically, mentally, emotionally....for example..
- Eating and drinking badly
- Not taking enough rest
- Not taking enough exercise
- Criticising ourselves
- Talking to ourselves in ways in which we would never talk to others
- Undervaluing ourselves
- Putting the needs of others before our own needs
- Bottling up things which we need to deal with
- Watching or reading about too much violence
Now I can sense that you will be reading this and starting to beat yourself up for all the harm you have done to yourself or others over the years! Oh no! More HARM, aargh!
Let us also acknowledge that violence is often a response to anger.
So how else can we respond?
We can simply begin to have an awareness of our thoughts, intentions and actions and gradually begin to change them if and when we recognise that they may cause harm.
There are some great positive affirmations which you may already be familiar with and which can be very helpful to us:
May all of my thoughts be of benefit to everything
May all of my intentions be of benefit to everything
May all of my actions be of benefit to everything
Gradually with patience, with ongoing awareness and with a degree of determination we can replace all of those harmful deeds, words, thoughts and intentions with...
KINDNESS AND COMPASSION
So today we've explored that first great Yama known as Ahimsa. If you would like you to explore even more about the Yamas and Niyamas, I'd like to invite you join me in my following posts as we delve further into the great wisdom that has been given to us by Patanjali thru the Yoga Sutras.