The First Universal Vow
Ahimsa is the first of the five vows depicted in the yamas. The yamas are the first of the eight limbs presented in the yoga sutras of Patanjali. Iyengar refers to them as ‘universal vows’ (Iyengar, 143, 1993) in his commentary on the sutras, and thus, should be adopted by all yoga practitioners. They act as a framework on which all forthcoming practice can flourish.
Therefore, one can suggest that ahimsa, being the first of these vows, is the foundation stone of all further ‘progress’. It can be translated as non-violence. This simple notion, has far reaching implications. If we look to the cultural landscape of India, we can see how vegetarianism echoes this practice, and expresses the deep rootedness of ahimsa in the spiritual and cultural milieu of India. This is particularly true of Rishikesh, where meat is forbidden. Ahimsa, quite simply, can be practiced on our plates, by the food choices we make.
Equally important is how you interreact with yourself. Non-violence means finding peace within yourself, and being happy in your own skin. If you cannot show love to the person in the mirror, it is futile to search for love in the external environment. When you understand and love yourself, then it will flow into every corner of existence. This is echoed in the sutras where it speaks of the practitioner who has attained ahimsa:
When non-violence in speech, thought and action is established, one’s aggressive nature is relinquished and others abandon hostility in one’s presence. II:35
The infectiousness, or knock on effect, of ahimsa is shown in this passage. Yoga has been seen as an ascetic ideal, a turning away from the world. But here, by establishing, in your thought’s deeds and actions, ahimsa, you can penetrate and aid the condition of others. Yoga recognises the fundamental interdependent-ness and universality of existence. There is no room for selfishness – this is violence against the natural order of the universe. If one loves oneself, and is free from violence, then by the very nature of our being, their love exudes and manifests in every facet of life.
For information on our yoga courses and teacher training certifications, where you will delve into the philosophy of the yoga practice, please see the relevant pages: