By Stephanie Carter for YOGANONYMOUS
After all, the philosophy behind yoga is what separates it from calisthenics, and is ultimately what makes it a truly transformative practice. The first few times you hear your teacher use the word ahimsa or quote Patanjali you may feel bewildered. Never fear. You don’t need an advanced degree in Sanskrit to benefit from yoga philosophy.
One of the most fundamental—and practical—parts of yoga philosophy is the group of practices called the yamas. Described in depth in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, the yamas are five guiding ethical principles which can improve your relationships with others and yourself.
I think of them as a sort of compass—a way to orient myself back to the right direction in life when I’ve swerved. Here’s a (very!) quick introduction:
1. Ahimsa: nonharming. This is the foundation on which the whole yoga practice is built. Ahimsa is cultivating an attitude of love and compassion toward others—toward everyone—even ourselves (amazing how easy it is to forget to include ourselves). It’s asking ourselves before doing something—is this harmful or helpful? Am I doing this out of love, or…?
Ahimsa helps us become more in tune with the subtle ways we do harm to ourselves through negative self-talk or even pushing ourselves too hard in a pose, for example. It also helps our relationships by getting us to consider the impact we have on others.
Sometimes when we’re in a difficult situation, it helps to remember ahimsa; we can remind ourselves we’re not really “against” anyone, even yourself. And if it’s difficult to be kind to yourself, try considering how you might feel or act toward someone you love—a child, friend even a pet, and apply that same approach to yourself. With practice, ahimsa can become the basis on which we think, feel and act – out of love.
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