Patanjali, the Hindu mystic known as the father of modern Yoga, wrote the ancient Sanskrit text, the Yoga Sutras.
In the Sutras, Patanjali describes the eight “limbs”, or guidelines, for living a purposeful and meaningful life:
- Yama – our attitude toward/how we relate to our environment
- Niyama – our attitude toward/how we relate to ourselves
- Asana – physical posture
- Pranayama – the breath
- Pratyahara – withdrawal of the senses
- Dharana – concentration
- Dhyana – meditation
- Samadhi – complete integration and ecstatic union
You could spend a lifetime studying the Yoga Sutras and barely scratch the surface. But you don’t have to be a scholar or a monk to start implementing the Sutras in your own life!
With everything we’re experiencing in the world right now, having some guidelines around how to live seems like a pretty good idea! In this article, I’m focusing on Ahimsa, which is the first Yama, or “moral vow”. Ahimsa is the Sanskrit word for non-harming in your actions, your words, or (this one is the trickiest!) even in your thoughts.
Ever look in the mirror and judge what you see? That’s a harming thought, the opposite of Ahimsa! The goal of practicing Ahimsa is to limit or reduce the ways you cause harm – to yourself, to others, and to your environment. It’s a challenging prospect, for sure, but I’ve compiled a list of practical ways you can practice Ahimsa in your own life.
Like anything else, the goal is not to be perfect, but to bring awareness to your thoughts, words and actions so you can begin working toward mastery.
1. Stop killing spiders and other bugs
I’ll be the first person to tell you I do not like spiders. They bug me out, pun intended. My skin crawls when I see one crawling on my ceiling, or even outside in the grass. But instead of killing them, consider that they actually provide a service to you by eating flies and other critters that are pests! And on that subject, don’t kill flies, either. In my house, we just open a window and let flies fly back outside where they want to be. When it’s spiders, I catch-and-release (or make my husband do it if they’re too big). Even though they’re “just bugs”, they have a life, and they deserve to live it.
…Just outside, not in my house.
2. Reduce your use of plastic
This one is such a hot topic right now, and for good reason. Plastic is harmful to the Earth, plain and simple. The less plastic we use, the less harm we’re causing to our environment, our Mother Earth. At the grocery store, choose produce that isn’t wrapped in plastic. Bring your own reusable mesh bags for produce, instead of those plastic ones they offer in the store. Ask for paper instead of plastic, or bring reusable cloth bags. If you can, buy your dry goods (nuts, grains, etc.) in bulk and store them in glass jars instead of buying plastic baggies of nuts, rice, etc. It isn’t difficult or complicated, it just requires some new habits. But if even 50% of people started doing these things, think of the impact it would have!!
3. Incorporate plant-based meals
Animal products use more resources, plain and simple. You don’t have to go all-out vegan (but if you want to, GREAT!! Send me a message if you want some tips from a 14-year vegan veteran!). Even just having ONE plant-based meal a week has an impact.
If you think plant-based recipes are boring, check on my “Yummy Food” Pinterest board – these are meals even my meat-eating husband approves of!
4. Be mindful of your speech
Ever catch yourself snapping at your partner or kids? Making a snide comment about a coworker? Criticizing that driver who cut you off? The words you speak have energy – they carry a weight to them. Even just complaining about how your day is going has an energetic impact on your energy, and the energy of everything around you.
Be mindful of the words you speak, and if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.
5. Avoid animal-derived products
This one ties-in with #3. It’s easy to forget that leather, wool, and other animal-derived materials or products came from an animal. A living creature suffered and possibly died so you could have a pair of leather boots. Can you opt for a cruelty-free option, i.e. faux-leather? Think about using natural materials that aren’t animal-derived, and if you really need leather, can you opt for second-hand or recycled? At the very least, can you look for humane-certified options?
It isn’t about joining PETA or going vegan. It’s about being mindful of the source of the products you’re using and remembering to give thanks to the animals that gave you the products you’re using.
6. Be aware of your thoughts
This one is HUGE! Of all 6 steps, I think this one is the hardest because our thoughts are often SUBCONSCIOUS. How many times a day do you pass a mirror and judge your appearance? Or pass judgment on someone’s parenting when there’s a child melting down in the candy aisle?
We all have judgmental thoughts from time to time. But just like words, our thoughts have energy and impact us. The more negative and judgmental your thoughts, the more challenging it is to carry a positive vibration. People around you can feel that, too! If you want to be a happier person, start with your thoughts.
So, there you have it – six practical ways you can incorporate Ahimsa into your everyday life. Remember, it is a practice – it takes time and effort; don’t get frustrated if you can’t get it perfect right away (that would be judgmental of yourself; #6!!)
Even if you only try one of these six things, I hope it brings a little more light into your life.