Ahimsa the first and most important yama because all the others follow from it. It is also the most difficult to practice comprehensively. Manu specifies in his laws that it is the highest means of liberation and the starting point of spiritual work.
Ahimsa is generally translated as non-violence, non-aggression and sometimes more precisely as non-nuisance. It is a question of not killing or injuring any being nor hurting his feelings in thought, in word or in action, for example:
- using introspective analysis and discrimination so as not to let violence enter the mental and emotional field;
- avoid insulting, speak with anger or will to harm and on the contrary cultivate words of kindness, love and gentleness or remain silent and listen;
- not to physically injure, allow or encourage violent actions; this can lead to a healthy lifestyle, conscious eating or even vegetarianism as well as ecology.
Before you speak, ask yourself: is it nice, is it necessary, is it true, does it improve silence?Shirdi Sai Baba
The word Ahimsa is also translated as compassion. Swami Sivananda even goes so far as to identify it with Supreme Love and describes it as the greatest force in the world. The practice of non-violence towards oneself and towards others is a path towards compassion and unconditional love through identification with all, everything, with the Self.
If you are established in Ahimsa, you have achieved all the virtues. Ahimsa is the pivot. All the virtues revolve around Ahimsa. The power of Ahimsa is superior to that of the intellect. It is easy to develop the intellect, but it is difficult to purify and develop the heart.Swami Sivananda Saraswati
Ahimsa is the non-judgment and respect for the other in his difference, in his unique way of expressing life and the divine. Ahimsa then also leads to the absence of fear. Conversely, violence is the lack of love.
The perfection of this yama brings the end of all violence in the presence of the yogi, like the light of universal love which disperses darkness. The emergence of a peaceful environment, of protective magnetic radiation are consequences of the integration of Ahimsa. Peace of mind and compassion are the real goals of Ahimsa which is not practiced for purely moral or ethical reasons.
Ahimsā-pratishthāyam tat-samnidhan vaīra-tyāgah.
If someone is installed in non-violence, around him, the hostility disappears.Yoga Sutras II.35
This does not mean, however, that one should become passive or resigned because preventing violence and protecting others can require active and energetic thoughts, words or actions. In the end more than thoughts, words or actions it is the intention that counts the most. It can turn a seemingly non-violent act into a violent one and vice versa. This is the paradox that Arjuna faces in the Bhagavad Gita: to fight but with no intention of harming, with compassion and no attachment to the result his action. And one can be a vegetarian tyrant.
Ahimsa is the highest ideal. It is intended for the courageous, never for the cowards… No power on earth can subjugate you when you are armed with the sword of Ahimsa. He ennobles both the victor and the vanquished.Gandhi
Applied to asana, Ahimsa means non-violence towards oneself and in particular one’s physical body. For example, by respecting its limitations, by graduating the practice and by never confusing zone of effort with zone of discomfort. Finding and respecting one’s limit is practiced at physical, emotional or mental levels.
Kaputa mudra, or gesture of the Dove (universal symbol of peace), allows to direct the breath, the attention and the energy towards the interior sanctuary which is the heart. This helps cultivate compassion, empathy and the experience of unity, the very foundations of Ahimsa. To practice with the hands joined at the level of the heart.
The practice of Ahimsa for a day, a week, a month, a lifetime makes it possible to identify, observe and tame one’s thoughts, words and acts that are violent or harmful to oneself as well as to others. Swami Niranjanananda proposes periods of fifteen days to experience each yama and niyama. It is not a discipline seeking to repress but rather to accept what is, in order to overcome it and no longer be unconsciously conditioned and influenced.
It may be easier to proceed gradually, starting with physical observation and control, then words, and finally thoughts. To be complete, besides restricting negativity, sadhana must also understand the positive aspect of Ahimsa: it is a question of cultivating compassion and unconditional love in thoughts, in words but also in actions.