As this painful, divisive, excruciating, acrimonious, interminable election season winds down, we thought we’d take a look at Ahimsa, yoga’s first tenet. It means non-harming; it is something we as a people have been lacking lately.
I saw a meme online this morning: “When it’s all over, all that really will have mattered is how we treated each other.” How well have we treated each another? Not very.
Ahimsa is the very first of the Yamas and Niyamas (think of the Yamas and the Niyamas as yoga’s Ten Commandments or rules of engagement). As in many sacred texts, the most important concept comes first (think Genesis 1:1). Ahimsa is Numero Uno, coming before truth, before not stealing, even before purity.
As it turns out non-harming is at the foundation of most religions. Yoga is not a religion, but it certainly shares this foundation. Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism, and Jainism have Ahimsa at their core. So, too, Christianity, Islam, and Judaism. The New Testament Mathew 5:9 reads, “Blessed are the peacemakers.” The Quran 5:32 reads “We decreed upon the Children of Israel that whoever kills a soul…it is as if he had slain mankind entirely.” The Hebrew Bible commands us, “Love thy neighbor as thyself.”

It is not too much of a stretch to say that non-harming is essential to our harmony as a people, a nation, a state, a community – even as a body politic. OK. Let us practice Ahimsa. Sounds good. What does this look like?
For some yogis, Ahimsa means don’t eat meat. Edwin Bryant writes in his translation of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, the ancient text in which the Yamas and Niyamas first appear, “At the very least, eating meat is to be shunned by anyone with even the minimum pretensions of aspiring  to be a practicing yogi as understood by Patanjali…A vegetarian diet is nonnegotiable for yogis.” It’s not hard to argue that such an extreme is not always possible or even desirable.
Other yogis have a different, less strict practice of Ahimsa. For them, Ahimsa might have an underlying environmental basis. Still, others practice Ahimsa in terms of their relationships—to others and to themselves.
No matter how you label your particular practice of non-harming, it is safe to say that we can all agree that Ahimsa manifests in two places: thoughts and actions. Your mind (i.e.: your heart) is your most powerful possession. Psychological harm, physical harm, social harm all start with thought. We can be harmful to ourselves and others in our speech, in our actions, in our behaviors. They all start with thought.

Love and understanding start in exactly the space place.
In this political season when so many of us have given words and even actions to our darker thoughts, the yoga practice affords us the opportunity to take a moment in the space between thought and deed to breathe and consider.
“When it’s all over, all that really will have mattered is how we treated each other.”

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