Ahimsa is one of the most fundamental principles from the original scriptures of Yoga and serves as a foundation for the practice of Yoga, on and off the mat. This practice is especially important now since our world desperately needs a grassroots movement to end hostility and all of us to participate. Ahimsa is often defined as non-violence but is intended to go much deeper. Embracing ahimsa means that we examine all the ways that we may cause suffering, even how we think about each other and ourselves.

One practical way we can practice ahimsa is in communication. I find the teachings of Non-Violent Communication especially helpful in learning to listen and speak mindfully. I have seen great value in the effort to listen carefully without interpreting the facts and jumping to conclusions. I also believe an important aspect of this practice is to not take to heart the comments that are spoken when someone is upset. If I can remain neutral and refrain from being triggered, I can better ascertain what timing and response will bring the most benefit.

In the last 10 or 11 years, I have enlarged my vision of how ahimsa can be observed. I have been considering how the feelings of compassion or ill-will that I cultivate become my contribution to the collective consciousness of our world. This understanding makes me feel that I am responsible, first of all, for making peace in my heart. I do this by making time for the meditative practices that make it possible for me to calm and clear my mind, and be more sensitive to others as I go about my day.

Through such practice, we learn to disengage ourselves from the grip of habitual ego-driven thought, and we bring a greater awareness into presence. From this place, we can bring more kindness into interactions, and cultivate compassion for those who are struggling or in pain instead of being annoyed by their behavior. We can learn to silently wish others well even when they are hurtful, knowing that someone who hurts others is no doubt suffering themselves.

Sri Swami Satchidananda strongly affirmed that each time we pray for peace, as we do at the end of each Integral Yoga class, we send profound energies out into our world. Even though we may not see the effect, each prayer, each instance of mindfulness, every act of kindness, is a significant act in co-creating reality.

On a larger scale, we are systematically destroying our home, Mother Earth, and our response to this crisis is a crucial element of spiritual life. Thus, ahimsa can also include promoting green energy, conserving water, and taking concrete steps to withdraw our support of the wasteful culture of consumption we live in, as well as the mass production of harmful chemicals that pollute our environment.

I firmly believe that groups of people committed to making peace in themselves, taking care of our planet and bringing compassion into their daily encounters, has a profound effect on the circles in which they move. I pray that all of us take seriously our role in minimizing violence and spreading an intention to manifest peace and harmony in our world. Even if we never see the ripple effect it creates, this effort will heal and bring joy to our hearts.

About the Author:

Swami Ramananda is the president of the Integral Yoga Institute of San Francisco and a greatly respected master teacher in the Integral Yoga tradition, who has been practicing Yoga for more than 35 years. He offers practical methods for integrating the timeless teachings and practices of Yoga into daily life. He leads beginner, intermediate, and advanced-level Yoga Teacher Training programs in San Francisco and a variety of programs in many locations in the United States, Europe, and South America. Swami Ramananda trains Yoga teachers to carry Yoga into corporate, hospital, and medical settings and has taught mind/body wellness programs in many places. He is a founding board member of the Yoga Alliance, a national registry that supports and promotes Yoga teachers as professionals.