Practicing Ahimsa with Ourselves

Sitting in my car is not practicing Ahimsa with myself. This is a lesson I’ve learned the hard way.

Let me explain.

First off, what is Ahimsa and why do we want to practice it?

What is Ahimsa?

Simply put, Ahimsa means non-harming (doing no harm) and non-violence. Living with the intention of not harming a single living being – both physically, and through our words.

Where does it come from?

Ahimsa is part of the 8 Limbs of Yoga. You may have heard that yoga is more than just Asana, or movement. In fact, Asana is merely one branch of the 8 Limbs of Yoga. Two of the other limbs are Yama and Niyama (moral and ethical restraints and observances), and this is where Ahimsa lives. The Yamas and Niyamas are often considered the “right way” of living.

Roughly speaking, the Yamas tend to deal with how we interact with the world around us, and include things we shouldn’t be doing—stealing, harming etc. The Niyamas are guides of habits for healthy body and spiritual living—including cleanliness and contentment.

And today, we’re looking at the idea of practicing Ahimsa with ourselves.

Practicing Ahimsa with the World

Most of us try to be kind and nice to others, and we may do things that reflect that desire. Maybe we are vegetarians or vegans. Maybe we silently wish people “well” when we pass them on the street. Maybe we volunteer or partake in any of the other countless ways to practice Ahimsa when dealing with others.

But how well do we do when it comes to practicing Ahimsa with ourselves?

Practicing Ahimsa with ourselves

This brings me back to sitting in my car, and why this is not practicing Ahimsa with myself. I’m in my car a lot. I consider myself very fortunate to have a car and the ability to chauffer the people I love—my girls to trombone lessons and cheer practice, and elderly parents to food stores and doctor appointments—to name a few.

As any mom can tell you, rather than driving back and forth, it’s often a better use of time to park outside these activities and get work done. However, I have learned that repeatedly sitting for hours while I wait, is not practicing Ahimsa with myself.

Leaning over in a cramped car, pushing to finish work while I’m hungry or frustrated is not practicing non-harming of myself. My body gets tight and sore, and a headache inevitably begins. Then the internal monologue starts: “I’ll never get this done. This isn’t good enough. Why can’t I just get this finished? What’s wrong with me?” And it’s a downward spiral from there.

Sound familiar?

Do you practice Ahimsa with yourself?

Or do you spend countless hours every day beating yourself up, comparing yourself to others, and forgetting to love yourself?

How to Practice Ahimsa with Yourself

It’s different for everyone, of course. But for me, getting out of the car and taking a walk makes a huge difference. In this way, I’m caring for my body and giving my brain a break.

Stop the negative rhetoric. Every time you think, “I can’t… I’m not… I’m____ (stupid, incompetent, ugly, etc)” close your eyes, take a deep breath, and let that thought go. Follow it with a positive thought and be specific. Instead of, “I’m the worst. I haven’t spent enough time with my kids today,” try, “I accomplished so much at work today and that will give me more time to spend with my kids tomorrow.” It’s about balance.

You need to show yourself loving kindness in order to show it to anyone else.

I know. We all think we can put ourselves last and this somehow makes us better people. What this really does is make us tired, rundown, grouchy, overwhelmed, and exhausted. We grow sad and irritable.

It may not be reasonable for you to go to the yoga studio every day. That’s true for most of us. But can you take 15 minutes for a walk, a warm bath, or to read a book? 10 minutes to journal? Or 5 minutes to meditate?

Putting yourself first – even for a few minutes a day – will help you to develop Ahimsa with yourself.

Taking the time to recognize that you are a person who matters—just as much as anyone else—will help you build a more positive journey with yourself.

It’s not easy. On my Crunchy Granola Yoga Journey I’m realizing it takes a lot of shifting or even tossing the old to make room for the new.

But when we talk about practicing Ahimsa with ourselves, the outcome is so worth it.

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