The word ahimsa in its simplest terms means nonviolence in Sanskrit. When I was going through yoga teacher training in 2012, I fell in love with the description of ahimsa in Patanjali’s sutras, or threads of teaching. Patanjali is one of the granddaddies of yoga and he wrote many of the basics of yoga at least 1,700 years ago.

Many times, yogis are asked to have a mantra – something to repeat during times of indecision, relaxation, or meditation. It’s a word or phrase that resonates with you and is meant to be calming and helpful. Ahimsa is that word for me. When I read the explanation the first time, I was hooked. Here’s a piece of the definition I liked most:

Ahimsa is usually translated as nonviolence, but this precept goes far and beyond the limited penal sense of not killing others. First and foremost we want to learn how to be nonviolent toward ourselves. If we were able to play back the often unkind, unhelpful, and destructive comments and judgments silently made toward our self in any given day, this may give us some idea of the enormity of the challenge of self-acceptance. If we were to speak these thoughts out loud to another person, we would realize how truly devastating violence to the self can be. In truth, few of us would dare to be as unkind to others as we are to ourselves. This can be as subtle as the criticism of our body when we look in the mirror in the morning, or when we denigrate our best efforts. Any thought, word, or action that prevents us (or someone else) from growing and living freely is one that is harmful.

“[…] Learning to see everything through the eyes of compassion demands that we look at […] aspects of our self with acceptance. […] Underneath these feelings we discover a much stronger desire that we all share – to be loved.”

I realize that this is a long way of saying something so meaningful, so my shortened definition is “Do unto yourself as you would do unto others. It’s to accept and love yourself so that you can accept and love others. I love what ahimsa stands for so much, I even got a tattoo of it – that’s the real secret of this blog post! 🙂


*Yoga Mind, Body & Spirit, Donna Farhi

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