Ahimsa: practicing non-violence through love


Love is an action, never simply a feeling.

-bell hooks

Greetings! As we move out of what was a very hard January for many people in Astoria, we want to celebrate the care and commitment of each and every one of you as you continue your yoga practice with us here at Watershed Wellness. Our January focus explored kindness and compassion, especially directed toward the self.

Yoga is more than just moving your body into different shapes.

The practice of yoga involves lifestyle and behavior guidelines, breathwork, meditation and what most of us are familiar with: movement practices. This month we’ll be focusing on one of the behavioral guidelines. We are beginning an exploration of the yamas and niyamas of yoga, starting with the principle of Ahimsa: non-violence.

A brief explanation of the yamas and niyamas

Yoga practitioners have always been human beings struggling and working towards being the best people that they can be. Yoga is a 5000-year-old practice that calms your mind and body and brings you peace and happiness. Early practitioners of yoga developed a list of principles to help guide them in this process. These guidelines have helped practitioners of yoga focus on leading lives that are morally and ethically correct. The list of guidelines includes the yamas and the niyamas.

The word yama in Sanskrit means “moral discipline” and niyama means “moral observance.

The 5 yamas (disciplines) are:

  • Ahimsa — non-harming
  • Satya — refraining from dishonesty
  • Asteya — non-stealing
  • Brahmacharya — wise use of sexual energy
  • Aparigraha — non-possessiveness

The 5 niyamas (observances) are:

  • Saucha — purity
  • Santosha — contentment
  • Tapas — self-discipline
  • Svadhyaya — self-study
  • Ishvara pranidhana — surrender to a higher source

In February, we are focusing on the first yama, ahimsa.

The yamas build upon one another with ahimsa acting as the building block for understanding all the other yamas.

Ahimsa means “avoidance of violence”.This is often interpreted as the act of not harming other beings (for example, many practitioners of yoga take this to mean that they should practice vegetarianism as an act of not harming animals).

Ahimsa can also be an act of practicing love and kindness toward ourselves and others.

This principle requires us to act from a place of love toward other beings, including ourselves. This includes non-harmful thoughts and actions. It means eradicating judgmental thoughts and negativity that can become all pervasive. It means responding to challenges that come our way with a sense of openness and love rather than shutting down and closing ourselves off from the world. It means extending the principle of charity to others when dealing with hard situations – assuming the best intentions of each other; assuming that we’re all coming from a place of love and kindness rather than from a place of harming each other.

For one day, try this: try tracking your thought processes throughout the day, and noting every time you have a negative or judgmental thought either about yourself or someone else.

Once you notice these thoughts, it’s astounding how much negativity and judgment knocks around in our thoughts every day. How can you turn these thoughts about yourself and others around to thoughts of love and kindness? When you hear that voice of negativity or judgment, replace it with something kind.

How does ahimsa show up on the yoga mat?

Ahimsa shows up when you don’t compare yourself to others in the room. It shows up when you don’t criticize your body or your practice, but rather allow yourself to be in whatever iteration of your self you are bringing to the mat that day. It shows up when you allow space for community and acceptance of everyone in the room.

We look forward to continuing to cultivate ahimsa in life and practice with you during the month of February!


Amanda and the WW yoga crew

Written by Amanda Barp

Amanda Barp is co-founder of Watershed Wellness, a licensed massage therapist with 10+ years experience, a registered yoga teacher with a passion for learning and teaching about the human body & how to feel at home in it.