Ahimsa is the first of the Yamas which are the ethical, moral and societal guidelines for yogis.
Although there are a lot of different definitions of ahimsa, one of my favorites is by Nicolai Bachman and can be found in his book, The Path of the Yoga Sutras (2011):
It involves abstaining from intentionally inflicting pain on or killing other creatures in thought, word or deed. A nonjudgmental and forgiving attitude is essential to practising ahimsa, the first and most important social observance. Ahimsa also implies an attitude that strives to reduce harm.
That being said, I also like to think of ahimsa as compassion and non-violence towards myself and towards others.
In my day to day life ahimsa expresses itself in many ways. When practising ahimsa towards myself, I’m trying to not give too much space to negative thoughts or emotions (such as shame, guilt, anger, disappointment), or beat myself up for something I did or didn’t do. I also try to not expect too much of myself all the time. Of course, I like to push myself and give my best but I also try to give myself permission to take it down a notch once in a while. Ahimsa can also be observed in the way I decide to feed myself and into the products I buy or support. As much as possible, I try to buy ethically and organically sourced products but when it is not possible, I also know that I need to let it go. For me, it’s all about my intentions. If my intentions come from a pure heart, then the outcome will also be pure no matter what happens at the end.
On a more physical level, in yoga for example, I try to respect my body and my breath as much as possible. Like I said earlier, I like to push myself enough that I can improve and grow but not to the point of harm. On a daily basis, I also consciously decide to reduce my violence exposure, be it by my choice of TV shows, books, or music.
Ahimsa also expresses itself in ways we interact with others: forgiveness, not expecting too much from others, not being judgemental, attempting to keep my temper in check and supporting/buying responsibly or ethically products are all ways to externally practice ahimsa. I used to be very quick to respond emotionally to situations. Once I started to learn more about the Yamas, and ahimsa in particular, I consciously decided to be gentler in the way I react to events that trigger me emotionally. I can’t pretend that it is always easy but I can say that it is so much better for my mental and physical health.
Overall, I think that trying to find peace in myself allows me to come to peace more easily with others. Yoga helps me so much on that journey and that is one of the many reasons I keep coming back to my mat. Namaste!