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Ahimsa: Highest of all the Yamas

Ahimsa: Highest of all the Yamas

I love studying yogic and spiritual philosophy. I’ll give myself little assignments to keep me accountable and learning, and they’re always outrageously more work they I think. I remember forcing myself to go to the library a couple times a week during my 200 HR YTT to write and re-write the Sutras for memorizing.

I’ve come to realize that this approach to the teachings sucks them dry of their nectar and nourishment. They’re not meant to be studied like you would in college to pass an exam. They’re not meant to be crammed or shown off as credentials. They’re meant to be embodied. Loved. Soaked-up. Lived with the fullest attention and compassion. Ahimsa.

However, I’m still learning, so of course just a couple weeks ago I gave myself the assignment to sit down each morning with a different Yama or Niyama. It didn’t take more than two days to realize that one morning was not nearly long enough to sit in the beauty and teachings of each one; so I’ve been sitting with ahimsa for two weeks now and it may take an eternity (who knows!) until it becomes an involuntary piece of me.

Ahimsa is the first Yama (ways to govern your behavior toward the outside world). Ahimsa is said to be the highest of all the Yama’s, that if you master this one then you have mastered them all. It’s a Sanskrit word that translates to non-violence and can be understood as full compassion.

The concept of full compassion can be unpacked and then re-packed and then unpacked again, endlessly. We can always strive to open our hearts more, especially during a time of increased intellect of the mind without emphasis on the heart’s own intellectual growth. Just think about how much you think? and then consider how much you feel? I’ve been learning recently just how powerful it is to feel your way out of “fight-or-flight” mode, and on the other side of that stress is a lot of love and deeper understanding of who you are and why you act the way you do.

In other words, what’re your samskaras? What are the layers that coat your heart? What has happened to you that burrowed deep into your subconscious to fester and create a piece of your personality? These layers need releasing, but don’t feel the need to rush this process. It’s a beautiful unraveling and we have our whole lives to be untangled.

This is where ahimsa breathes. In these moments of unraveling when you treat yourself with highest love and respect to let yourself go and be as you are. This could look like allowing yourself to cry freely in the middle of the kitchen because things got too heavy and feel out of control. This could look like praying, releasing your grip, and asking for divine guidance. This could be honoring your ritual (whatever it is that brings you to that higher plane) and making it non-negotiable and the highest priority.

Ahimsa has turned into a daily practice of learning how to be compassionate with myself, especially on the bad days. Meghan Currie says in a recent podcast, “before maybe I saw it as a bad day that I had to get through, and then once I got through it, I would take a sigh of relief and come back to this place of meditation and ease. But now I see it differently, now I see that the bad day is the friction that creates the strength that then builds me into a more embodied individual. The bad day is like a necessary rung in the ladder, and without that run I wouldn’t grow.”

She continues on to give the listener a visual of a tiny seed buried deep beneath the soil and as the seed sprouts it has to push with all its little strength to reach the surface. That’s the friction. That’s the bad day. The push to build the strength so that you reach the surface with confidence and a strong sense of self. Otherwise, without the push, we would reach the surface exhausted and wither away not ready for what this new realm has in store for us.

I invite you, just as I have myself, to show up non-negotiably each day in full compassion for yourself. You’ll notice, interestingly enough, that because of this practice you will have even more compassion toward others.

How can you be more compassionate to your body, mind, energy levels, emotions, and spirit in actions and in thought?

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