The First Commandment of Yoga: Thou Shalt Not . . . .

non-violenceWhy should we care about the Yamas and Niyamas, the moral code of yoga? According to the yogis, here is why we should care:

In yoga philosophy, most diseases are physical manifestations of mental and emotional disturbances. Therefore physical health is dependent on mental well-being. The yogis believe we must cultivate a steady, tranquil mind before we turn our attention to the physical body.

That is why the very foundation of yoga focuses on clearing the mind so that our behavior is in harmony with the greater flow of life or the Universe.

You may have wondered why your yoga teacher may be spending a minimum of 5 minutes but sometimes even 10 minutes at the beginning of class, in what we call centering. This is the time to deepen your breathing, clear away the mental fog and focus your awareness on the inner dialogue.

The Yamas and Niyamas help us to keep the inner dialogue in check. Hopefully our “outer dialogue” or how we treat people, reflects this clarity of mind!

Today my focus will be on Ahimsa which can be loosely translated as non-violence or non-harming.

This Yama, is growing to be my absolute favorite and, slowly over time, has grown to be the very core of my yoga practice. For me, everything leads back to this.  In my eyes, this idea of non-violence is the very foundation of yoga. Everything else rests on this one belief and way of being in the world.

I am devoting an entire blog post to each of the Yamas and Niyamas because these are not simple practices. The idea of non-violence can be seen and viewed from many different angles. And each of these commandments of yoga will have different meanings for each of us, based on our personal histories as well as where we are in our lives. Essentially the idea of non-violence will take on a new and different meaning for you, over the course of your lifetime.

These Yamas and Niyamas can only be useful if we use them as tools for every day living. The idea here, is I will offer you some possible ways that you can meditate on the concept of non-violence and use it for self improvement.

You may be thinking to yourself – - But I am NOT a violent person. I would never hit, punch or kick anybody. And I am a pacifist and believe that arbitration and debate are the ways to prevent wars between nations.

I am here to let you know that violence can take many other forms besides the obvious physical violence of things like murder, rape and battery. Yes, those are forms of violence, no doubt. But as a yogi, it is the subtle ways that we violate others that is my utmost concern.  Much of this “subtle” violence is totally condoned by society as a whole and therefore has become socially acceptable.

Here is where the yogi needs to hold himself to a higher standard.

Let me give you some examples of violence that has become socially accepted or even the “norm.”

The most prevalent form of violence that most of us see and practice on a daily basis is violent language or speech. But first, let me give you my definition of “violence.” Violence comes from the root “to violate.” What
does it mean “to violate” someone? We violate someone when we trample on their rights, take advantage of them in any way or, impose our words, actions or beliefs on them without their permission.

You see this a lot in married couples. The way they speak to one another without a shred of respect. As an outsider walking into their world, we are often horrified by what we are hearing and the fact that this behavior seems very normal to this particular couple. They have lost all touch with decent behavior and mutual respect.

Please meditate on this list of examples:

• Any type of controlling behavior (your mother in law for example)
• Any type of manipulative behavior (your husband or wife for example)
• Anger, especially when expressed in harsh words or actions
• Cruelty – of course this is very general and can take many forms
• Verbal criticism of others for example “that guy is such a slob.” By making that statement, you have just violated that person.
• A few other examples: “That guy has such a big mouth!” or “Here comes 2 Ton Tillie.”
• Dominating a conversation
• Talking too much
• Refusing to listen to others
• Being stubborn
• Arrogance
• Insisting on being right all the time
• Disrespecting others
• Treating others with a total lack of respect
• Verbally demeaning or belittling others

Okay, hopefully you are beginning to get the idea. Do you see how “violence” is a lot more than murder, rape and battery?

Anytime you utter a spiteful, angry, blaming word, either directly towards someone or about someone who is not present, that is violence.  Gossip is the worst form of violence. Totally condoned and even encouraged in many social circles.

I hope you will take some time to meditate on this list I have offered and perhaps make your own list.

By the way, you totally have the right to avoid violent situations and violent people. And this includes verbally abusive people.

Violence is contagious. If you are seeking inner peace, you need to avoid violent people and violent situations at all costs.  We cannot live in both worlds. There is “violence” and there is “love” and they are on opposite ends of the spectrum.

Here is one final example of “violence” that often goes unnoticed. When we are feeling hurt inside or slighted by someone, it’s natural to get angry at that person and carry a grudge or feel spiteful. This anger, this blame, when expressed, is violence against that person.

We often rationalize it by saying – this person hurt me so I have a right to retaliate with anger. No you do not! Two wrongs do not make a right.

You must learn to take responsibility for your own hurt feelings. It’s no one’s fault that you feel hurt. Even if the other person has truly violated you in some way – yes it’s natural to feel angry. I am not telling you to suppress the anger. Anger is a very natural emotion. But lashing out in anger towards someone else, is NEVER productive. The true yogi finds another way.

For those who would like to learn more about non-violent communication, I highly recommend this book:

Nonviolent communication: A Language of Life – Marshal B. Rosenberg

This book has the power to permanently change your consciousness and to attract loving people into your life!

I hope you enjoyed this discussion of Ahimsa or non-violence, the very first commandment of yoga and the very foundation of all yoga practice.

And if you’re serious about making changes . . . . .
Please check out my free gift to you now

Dee Greenberg 30 Day Yoga Habit

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