Hatha Yoga is built on the eight limbs of Raja Yoga. They contain guidelines to live a Yogi life and come to the ultimate aim of Yoga: union of the self with reality.
The first limb is Yam, which contains guides to tune your nature and obtain qualities in your character. The first guideline is Ahimsa.
Ahimsa means Non-Violence
Non-violence, not hurting or damaging. Being respectful to all living beings on earth. You might have heard before about the respect Yogis have for all living beings. They do not harm animals, are vegan or vegetarian and try to minimalize the imprint of their existence on nature.
But why is Ahimsa so important when practicing yoga asanas? It struck me when my teacher told me his experience about the difference of Yoga practitioners in the West and in India.
Yoga in India
In India the eight limbs are first taught and perfectly understood before starting a yoga practice. In this way they are aware and know what the purpose is of every limb in Yoga. They have background information that they also know how to apply. Without any teachings of the eight limbs, yoga is not practiced. So what is the significant difference of practicing yoga when having understanding and being able to apply Ahimsa during asana yoga practice?
The answer is this: In India people do not injure themselves during asana practice!
Yoga in the West
In the West there are a lot of people that have injuries from practicing yoga. The difference is that they do not know about Ahimsa, but also because the mentality is very different. So why is Ahimsa so important? Ahimsa means non-violence. To others but also towards yourself!
Do not harm Yourself!
First and foremost; take care of your own body! So do not push it (non-violence). Listen to it! Have patience! With the fast pace of today’s society our minds go so fast, that our bodies cannot keep up. Plus we are more ‘Fire’ people here in the West (ayurveda) which doesn’t help with patience. We want it fast and we want it now. This is what we often also ask of our bodies. Leading into forcing our body into poses we cannot do, or preventing the feeling and thoughts of being the ‘worst’ in class… Yoga is an individual path. What others do is not important. How fancy your poses look is not important!
Get to know Yourself
The path of Yoga is to get to know yourself. It is an inside journey. For example understanding where your own (bodily) boundaries lie and not crossing them. Observing thoughts and emotions, but not attaching to them. Loving your body of which you only have one in this life! Take good care of your body, it is your best friend. It is the one that is always there for you and will stay with you until your last breath.
Take care of your body. Do not harm it, Ahimsa!, and in the meantime get to know yourself.
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