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The ethical guideline of non-violence

Master Patanjali, the father of modern yoga, wrote the yoga sutras many hundreds of years ago. One of these sutras describe the 8-limbed path of Ashtanga yoga (Ashtanga refers to the 8 limbs of yoga).

The goal of astanga yoga is enlightenment, or more specifically, realizing that this moment is perfect just the way it is. The asana or physical postures we perform on the mat is only one of the eight limbs. I would like to introduce the other limbs, so that you can practice yoga not only on the mat, but in all walks of life, essentially speeding up the process of attaining enlightenment.

The first of the limbs is the Yamas, or ethical guidelines or restraints. And the first Yama is Ahimsa or non-harming/violence. This implies not being harmful in our thoughts, words, and actions to ourselves, first and foremost and to others, be it other human beings or other living beings. Core to this philosophy is the understanding that having a non-harming attitude toward others naturally encourages them to remove hostilities directed at you – creating a positive feedback loop of compassion.

Ahimsa in practical terms: Without going into a discussion around the potential karma (cause and effect) in eating meat and the effects of the unconscious consuming of animals on the subtle body, or even how we do or do not contribute to the violence directed at animals, it is important to at the very least, consider the kind of lives the animals we eat, are leading. Let alone the impact on the environment, with, for example, livestock farming, as well as the impact which eating animals and their products have on our own bodies, with all the hormones and antibiotics they are being fed. At the end of the day it is a matter of “each to their own”, but perhaps we do not need to have meat with every meal, or have alternatives to meat when that is available, or rather eat game and fish (animals that have led a happy life, all of their life).

If and when we have decided to become vegetarian or vegan, ahimsa at the level of thought, speech and action also means that we do not have to beat ourselves up if we cannot 100% stick to the regime, especially at the beginning, that we do not judge others who are eating meat, especially verbalising it, and that we also take care to not take the lives of other smaller, less conspicuous living beings on a daily basis, such as ants, bugs, snails, caterpillars, spiders, roaches (perhaps we can pick them up and put them outside the yard, rather than using pesticides).

A good rule of thumb is to always ask: “What is the most loving thing I can think, say and do in this moment, right now?”.

Bringing it back to the mat: heart openers are excellent postures for making space in the heart for more giving and receiving of love. Also, it is often easier to practice on the mat what we need to do in life off the mat, so when you are performing your asana practice, be kind to yourself. Perhaps you do not have to have a mentality of “no pain, no gain”….

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