Ahimsa means Non-Harming

The Sanskrit word AHIMSA means non-harming.

The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali are recognized as the first written instructions for yoga. In this ancient text, the gurus offer the definition, the philosophical ideals, the methods and the benefits of the yogic lifestyle. Among the teachings are guidelines for moral behavior called the yamas and the niyamas. The yamas are the restraints – what NOT to do. The niyamas are the observances – what TO do. These standards for moral behavior are considered the first step to a yoga practice. So set aside your mat and give this some thought….

The first yama (restraint) is AHIMSA. Ahimsa means non-harming. A quick glance might lead you to believe that this means being a vegan. And, for some, it might. Certainly the gurus intend for us to be kind and compassionate to all beings. But there is much inner work to do in the arena of non-harming for deeply rooted non-harming means kindness and compassion for our own selves. And that’s a big job.

There are many physical and mental habits that prevent us from living easy with ourselves. Poor eating, limited exercise, stress and worry, over-scheduling and self-limiting beliefs and thoughts….you get the idea! If you’ve spent any amount of time inside your own head, you know. The human mind and the modern day lifestyle provide an endless stream of self-harming thoughts and behaviors. And even though it is considered the first lesson of the first step along the yogic path, I would suggest that ahimsa is a practice for the most sincere and courageous yogi.

So what is it that keeps us from non-harming with ourselves? I suggest that the root is SHAME.

Shame is like a dandelion; there’s a long deep root that snaps when you try to pull it out allowing the weed to simply grow back stronger. And the pretty little flowers that seem harmless shed an infinite number of seeds that allow the weed to take over the entire yard.

And, don’t get me wrong; I love dandelions. I call them the flowers for the children and hold sweet memories of my kids picking me fistfuls when they were small and innocent. Sweet smiles for the memory. But back to business here, shame has deep roots as well as the potential to impact our lives preventing other beautiful flowers from blossoming. Try as you might, dandelions are difficult to eliminate.

Just like the landscaper caring for our own front yard, we might best consider simply working with shame. We may be most effective working to soften, weaken, and ease its grip on us and its ability to negatively impact us.

Here’s a personal story to inspire you:

Many years ago, I had the pleasure of meeting Wayne Dyer. I went to a lecture at Lakeland Community College…arrived early and planted myself front and center! So excited!! Wayne’s work was instrumental to my first steps on the path of self-discovery. I rewired my thinking by listening to his audio lectures and felt so fondly of him. I am certain that my heartfelt admiration and respect radiated to him on stage because, when he needed a volunteer, he pointed straight to ME! I found myself on stage with Wayne Dyer!!

He called me up to demonstrate kinesiology…muscle testing….a strategy for reading the energetic impact that thoughts, objects, statements, etc. have on the body. Kinesiology allows us to gain information and get feedback from our bodies on whether something has an affirming or disempowering impact on us.

I held out my arm and followed Wayne’s instructions: “Think of someone you love dearly.” I did. Wayne pushed down on my arm. My arm stayed strong. “Think of something that made you feel badly. Something horrible that happened.” I did. Wayne pushed down on my arm. My arm weakened and dropped to my side despite my attempt to hold it up.

This works, folks. You can try it on any number of things. You might hold an organic banana to your belly and compare it to holding a box of Oreos to your belly. Your body won’t lie. You’ll stay strong to positivity and weaken to negativity.

Anyway, back to Wayne….he talked to me, shared his insights to the audience, demonstrated a few more ideas then gave me a good-bye squeeze. First of all, Wayne Dyer hugged me with such a loving presence! Adore him!! But he also whispered in my ear. He shared a compassionate and powerful message. “Don’t shame yourself.” I lost my breath for a moment then responded with a thank you.

As I returned to my seat, Wayne continued his lecture and shared a few thoughts on shame. Turns out shame has the lowest, most destructive vibration of any emotion. As I listened to him, my eyes swelled with the silent tears of truth. I was holding a ton of shame. And it was heavy. And it was dark. And it was limiting. And it had deep, deep roots.  

As I said, this was many years ago. The healing continued from then to now…and continues even as we share this moment. I’ve worked long and hard to find compassion and kindness for myself. I’ve softened, weakened and eased the impact of the dandelion I call shame. I’ve practiced ahimsa sincerely and courageously just like the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali suggest. And I’ve made progress for sure.  The yard looks better!

Today, I’m digging in fresh for some spring gardening and I’d like to invite you to join me. On April 2nd, I’ll begin a ten week sadhana (personal practice) structured around the yamas and niyamas. Each week I’ll consider one restraint or observance. I’ll share my thoughts and practice around each yama and niyama in a Facebook post on my page Tracy Rhinehart Yoga. You can practice with me.

We’ll start on April 2nd with my practice for cultivating ahimsa. Let’s till the soil, pull the weeds, plant the seeds and let the garden grow!