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Yamas – Ethical disciplines to adopt in life.

January 3, 2012

The  five Yamas overlap and blend together in many ways to form a good living frame work. In this article we will look at the first Yama individually.


The word himsa directly translated from Sanskrit means to harm while a-himsa translates to the opposite of this, meaning non-harming.  The question is, can we really exist without doing harm? Our very existence as biological, consuming and growing organisms living in our environment causes some harm somewhere.  When we eat we may consume an insect, when we drive our car we may inadvertently harm a bird or a small animal on our many road journeys. When we have a negative thought, the energy of this thought may translate into an attitude in the body or to an inflection in our voice which may harm.  Should we respond by not driving a car, or becoming thoughtless or perhaps by not eating food?  To do no harm is to not exist.  So the question is can we really “do no harm”.  In my understanding of the Yoga Sutras Patanjali suggests we cultivate an attitude of non-harming rather than live with the judgement of “do not harm”. Judgement itself is harmful and is evident in the many self righteous attitudes, arguments and wars.
Andy Nix
So how do we live by the principle of “ahimsa?”
In the spirit of Patanjali’s yoga sutras, it is suggested that ahimsa is cultivated and brought into all our living spheres. This implies becoming aware of one’s environment and aware of how we tread, how we think and what we do. Acting without awareness is where we harm. So cultivating awareness or mindfulness in all that we do will lead us towards the path of ahimsa. Ahimsa is so much more than not harming others in deed which is the obvious interpretation. We may do kindly deeds but think unkindly somewhere else by judging others who don’t. Cultivating ahimsa may mean watching our thoughts with great care, as these often inadvertently become action if not attended to. It means being careful of how and what we eat and of the choices we make as consumers in society. We place much pressure on ourselves to eat and buy only products which are good to the environment. This is not always possible.  It means being mindful of the intentions behind our actions and observing these intentions carefully and then acting in the most harmless way possible. The key to living harmlessly it seems is to cultivate good intentions. Do we intend to hurt or harm when we speak to someone. Our attitudes and cultivated intentions must also apply to ourselves, to our bodies as well as to our internal environment. How often we do harm to ourselves in negative thought patterns, or by pushing our bodies harmfully in a competitive manner in order to satisfy our ego.  Or how often we do harm to ourselves by cultivating a negative thought about someone else.
In conclusion,  a-himsa, could be seen as cultivating an attitude of non-harming or one of harmlessness and building good intentions.
Anita Bagshaw – Integral Yoga Teacher, Simons Town | Visit Maitri Yoga Studio for more information about Anita and classes in Simons Town, Cape Town.










Photo by Andy Nixon

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