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The Yamas are the first limb of the 8-limbed path of Raja Yoga, the yogic tradition that is at the root of many yoga lineages that we are familiar with today.

Ahimsa is the first of the five yamas, restraints. At first glance, it seems simple. Likely, we all would agree that not harming another is of supreme importance. However, ahimsa looks deeper than physical violence and encompasses how we speak and think about other beings as well as how we treat ourselves.

At the root of all the yamas is the idea of avoiding behaviors that would prevent or get in the way of our reaching total absorption or connection to Supreme Consciousness, recognizing that we are all a part of a great interconnected oneness.  The act of harming another being, inflicting pain has ripple effects and if we are connected, that which we do to another affects us.   Although we may not consciously realize or feel this reverberation, on more subtle levels it can be felt and experienced, with a resulting feeling of uneasiness or inner discord.  

Recognizing that any suffering affects the whole, in addition to avoiding actively causing harm to another being, we can opt to look at the source of food or commodities to avoid products of pain and suffering.  Ahimsa reminds us that words can inflict pain and the words we shout or speak to another out of anger and frustration can leave us feeling drained and out of sorts long after the outburst.  Finding a way to communicate our thoughts and feelings in a manner that is not accusatory or vindictive, but merely speaking respectfully from our experience and understanding allows us to feel clear that we have not swallowed our feelings and at the same time maintain that inner calm or to more quickly return to that state when we are not carrying around the after-effect of words spoken from anger and attachment.

Another layer, going deeper, is the recognition that thoughts have power and when we wish ill or think ill of another, it stays with us, often increasing as the thought perseverates and repeats, bringing with it an agitated inner state.  Although it is important not to deny or suppress our feelings and thoughts, it is often from our attachment to things or people being a certain way that we develop animosities and aversions. Similarly, to when we meditate and recognize a thought but not hold on, it is a helpful practice when thoughts turn negative regarding others, to experiment with the acknowledge and release practice, of recognizing but not holding on.

Finally, bringing it home, so to speak, ahimsa should begin with how we treat ourselves.  Often a lot of time is spent in life being aware of our effect on others.  However, often people forget that treating ourselves with the same loving kindness that we would bestow on others is critical to maintaining our inner balance and serenity.  When we criticize ourselves, deprive ourselves of basic needs, push our bodies beyond comfortable limits, or don’t acknowledge ourselves for our efforts and intentions, a great deal of disharmony can result.  Finding ways to practice self-care and learning to love and respect ourselves is critical to having the energy and ability to respect and treat other beings with love.  

In honor of this first yama, consider how you may practice more loving kindness, and non-violence with yourself, as well as in your actions and choices and watch how this brings a deep sense of inner well-being. 

Lisa Bouley Headshot PhotoLisa Bouley, MS, RYT200, received her master’s degree, in nutrition from the University of Bridgeport and her bachelor’s degree, in psychology, from Clark University. Her love of yoga began over 40 years ago, when she discovered a small book that demonstrated some basic yoga postures. This began a journey that led her to take classes in Sivananda yoga and spend time living and performing seva at a Sivananda ashram, in Grass Valley CA, in the early 90’s completing her first 200-hour yoga teacher’s training at Kripalu, in Lenox, MA, in the later 90’s, and then discovered ChildLight in 2019. It was at ChildLight that Lisa’s knowledge and understanding blossomed in many new directions. Lisa began her ChildLight training with Yoga & Mindfulness for Children and then Yoga & Mindfulness for Tweens and Teens. When trainings began virtually, Lisa enjoyed being part of the first live virtual 200-hour adult yoga teacher’s training and then a 30-hour Yin Yoga training. In addition to her degree in nutrition, Lisa has spent years learning about a variety of holistic healing traditions and has a passion for assisting clients in finding natural remedies and nutritional and lifestyle changes that bring greater physical, mental and emotional well-being. Her experience with vision loss and the gifts that the teachings of yoga bring in challenging times, provide her greater insight and ability to share these core understandings, as well as the ability to inspire students to feel the postures, allowing her descriptive verbal cues to guide them deeper within. Currently, Lisa resides in the Boston area with her husband and two daughters. She enjoys time in nature, teaching yoga, and furthering her studies. Life is for learning is a belief that she holds near and dear. Her current focuses of study and learning include yoga philosophy, Sanskrit, ayurveda, chakras, mudras, and deeper understanding of the spiritual realms. Lisa can be reached with questions or comments at: lmbouley@msn.com