In Sanskrit Ahimsa means “non-injury” or “non-harm”, and is one of the five Yamas, or the ethical, moral, and societal guidelines for yogis. Many people practice Ahimsa by observing a strict vegan diet, by buying eco-friendly cosmetics, or by biking to work. But one of the most important and difficult things to remember about ahimsa is that it also applies inward. It may come as a surprise, but violence towards ourselves can manifest itself in many ways – some of the more obvious are things like eating or drinking in excess, not sleeping enough, or working too hard. But when our minds are polluted with negative thoughts like “I’m not good enough” or “I can’t do this,” we too are harming ourselves by filling up on self-doubt or self-loathing. Similarly, emotions can be toxic to our well-being - like when we become jealous, angry, possessive, or fearful. These emotions feel bad because they are bad – bad for our minds and our bodies. Research has shown that negative thoughts and emotions correlate with poorer health and a shorter lifespan, while positive-minded individuals are often more successful, healthier, and live longer.
Meditation and Yoga can be used to practice Ahimsa in our day-to-day lives. By tuning into your body and breath you can begin to watch as your thoughts form. Recognize any thoughts you are having that are harmful to yourself or to others - to recognize is not to react though. Simply observe them as they enter and leave your consciousness, as your breath does your body. To practice ahimsa is to practice compassion, and to accept things as they are. This awareness and mindfulness are key to controlling your negative thoughts, rather than letting them control you. Learning to be kind to yourself is a process, but likely the most important one you can learn.