The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali is one of the oldest sources of yoga philosophy dating back to 2500 BCE. Sutras mean threads, and this work was put together by Patanjali’s students as a way to record his teachings. Originally passed through generations orally, it contin- ues to be one of the most important resources when looking to deepen our yoga practice. It is from the Sutras that the “Eight Limbs of Yoga” are first described. 

The eight limbs of yoga:

  1. Yamas: social code of ethics to which there are five
    • »  Ahimsa or non-violence
    • »  Satya or truth
    • »  Asteya or non-jealousy
    • »  Brahmacharya or moderation
    • »  Apparigraha or non-coveting
  2. Niyamas: personal code of ethics to which there are five
    • »  Saucha or purity
    • »  Santosha or contentment
    • »  Tapas or discipline
    • »  Svadyaya or self-study
    • »  Ishvara Pranidhana or
      surrender
  3. Asana or poses
  4. Pranayama or breath practice
  5. Pratyahara or withdrawal of the
    senses
  6. Dharana or focus
  7. Dyana or meditative mind
  8. Samadi or bliss

Over the course of the next few issues of OptiMYz, I will be exploring ways we can take our yoga practice off the mat. The good news is, we never had to actually practice yoga on the mat to get started.

We begin with the Yamas, or what we consider the social codes of ethics. These are ways that we choose to interact with the world and the people around us—how we treat each other, and how we treat ourselves. The first Yama is Ahimsa or non-violence. Many say this is the most important lesson, and if we get this one right everything else will fall in line.

Change begins with us, and you do have the power to make important changes in your community, workplace, and social circles to reduce harm against others.

Ahimsa, non-violence

The concept of non-violence is obvious on the surface: don’t hurt anyone. We have laws in place to protect us from physical violence in all its forms.

I think we can all agree this is fair, reasonable, and pretty easy to do. However, as we start to dig a little deeper, we realize there are many other ways that we harm, either unconsciously or perhaps because we just follow along with society.

The harm we are doing to the environment is a big one here, we can also look at the meat industry, the wars being fought around the world, racism, sexism and gender, transgender, sexual, religious, and cultural discrimination. These are all forms of violence happening in the world every day. And while we may not be able to change the world, there are many things we can do to help. Individually these may be small, but collectively they are great.

Something as simple as picking up litter (plastics in particular), shovelling in front of your neighbours sidewalk, or volunteering and joining a peaceful protest are all great examples. Change begins with us, and you do have the power to make important changes in your community, workplace, and social circles to reduce harm against others.

The other layer of Ahimsa is non-violence towards ourselves. How we treat ourselves is extremely important. There are so many pushes towards self-care these days and I write about it constant- ly because it’s integral to our well-being. We need to start taking care of

ourselves. We need to stop trying to the multi-task, and trying to do everything and just simply, be. A physical yoga practice helps immensely here as it reminds us to just slow down and breathe, to pay attention to our bodies, and quiet our minds. The minds being the place where the most violence occurs—how we talk to ourselves.

The constant diatribe that we need to be more, that we aren’t good enough, pretty enough, fit enough, and all the stories and examples we throw at ourselves to prove how right we are. It’s horrible! You would never speak like that to your worst enemy, so how dare you talk to yourself that way? Watch your thoughts carefully, watch how you talk to yourself, watch how you think about others—in particular the people you don’t know. Instead of criticizing, embrace, be grateful. Let go of the negativity.

Practice Ahimsa on your mat by being honest with where you are today. Let go of the need to push yourself into poses that may not be right for you.

There are many ways we can practice Ahimsa. If it feels overwhelming, start small. It is the collective of us all sharing this discipline that will create the most change.

Namaste.

More Inspiration: Check out this cool article on finding and building your self-esteem.

Author: Lisa Greenbaum, E-RYT 500 and C-IAYT yoga therapist, has worked with countless individuals by using yoga to release trauma, find ease from chronic pain and tension and develop a deeper connection to Self: mind, body and spirit. She has over 750 hours of yoga education and logged 4000+ teaching hours. She is also a certified fitness instructor and personal trainer with canfitpro, and a Women in Fitness Association (WIFA) Global Ambassador.

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