A is the first letter of the alphabet. Similarly, Ahimsa, or nonviolence, is the first step in yoga practice. Without passing A one cannot get to B. Without understanding ahimsa one cannot achieve success in yoga, for it is the foundation of all successive steps to self-realization.
What exactly is nonviolence? Simply put, it is the absence of violence. When we think of the definition of violence, we may first imagine a physical action which injures another being.
Yet there are various forms: physical, verbal, mental, emotional/psychological, neglect, etc. In the modern times there can be digital abuse, cyber bullying, threats and intimidation via social media. Consider also of self-condemnation, another form of injury.
We are not always aware of the presence of violence around us or within us. The cause of a violent act (or thought) is not easy to pinpoint. It can be due to unresolved emotions, unfulfilled desires or ways to express frustration of not being in control of a situation. The feelings of inadequacy or fear can lead one even towards self-abuse.
Regardless of the cause, violence can lead to intolerance, discrimination, retribution, wars, physical and mental illness, crime, and conflicts with friends or family. The inherent nature of man is divine. Yet, because of latent impressions and past experiences we are drawn to certain behaviors which are undesirable. Simple contemplation on ahimsa can itself be a step towards reducing violence within and without.
Mahatma Gandhi is an example of someone who made ahimsa his life philosophy. Gandhi’s unique non-violent methods helped to release India from the clutches of colonial rule. Leaders such as Nelson Mandela and Dr. Martin Luther King followed his example for addressing repression. Yet, despite the great achievements which Gandhi had attained, he remained true to his values of truth and nonviolence. “In a gentle way, you can shake the world” he said.
It is within each individual to affect a change towards ahimsa. As Gandhi stated, “You can’t change how people treat you or what they say about you. All you can do is change how you react to it.”
Madhavi is an Aerospace Engineer by profession, a trained yoga teacher and a devoted student in the Himalayan Yoga Tradition. A passionate trekker and seeker, she devotes her free time to serving the elderly.