Yogic Living Through Non Violence
Yoga, as it has evolved and gained popularity in Western societies, has come to signify the many yoga postures or asanas that can be combined to create a challenging fitness routine. However, the ancient tradition and practice of yoga can provide us with much more than the widely known physical benefits. It can actually change our perception of reality and help us lead happier and more fulfilling lives.
The first step in understanding these lesser-known benefits is to understand the nature of how and where we might be looking to improve our lives.
The universe has a rhythm and harmony which we tend to detach ourselves from, most significantly when we view the world through a materialistic and individualistic lens, or many other lenses of the human experience. This sense of detachment, and the unfulfilled feeling that we can do and experience so much more, often without knowing how, results in a kind of suffering or discomfort, known as dukka in the Yogic tradition. Often, what the world has to offer us is quite different from the way that we experience it.
Indian guru, and founder of Ashtanga yoga, Patanjali gives us a guide in the 8 Limbs of Yoga as outlined in “The Yoga Sutra” to help us re-connect with the true nature of the world. While asanas have become the face of yoga and are a bit more accessible, the 8 Limbs of Yoga delves deeper. Pantanjali’s text provides us with a practical system that helps us reach our potential and relieve our suffering. The 8 limbs are not stages or phases of self-development, but rather different categories of techniques and tools that we can implement simultaneously into our everyday lives. These teachings are the essence of yoga and what makes them so valuable to devote our time to each day.
The Yoga Sutra offers an invitation to examine and adopt what works for us, to come into harmony with ourselves and our surroundings. The first limb or set of actions Patanjali describes teaches us how to do just that. Yamas, which literally translates to “control”, refers to a type of moral control that we can cultivate in our daily lives when interacting with our environment and the people in our lives. Within the scope of Yamas, Patanjali provides 5 recommendations, the first of which is to practice “non-violence”.
Defining violence will help us become more aware of its different forms, and how we can minimize it in our daily lives. Violence can include the following:
- Physical Violence: When we think of violence, of course we think of physical violence. In other words, when we physically harm or kill someone or some creature, including animals, the environment and the earth. While part of our existence is an ingrained violence, for example breathing in microorganisms or unknowingly stepping on ants, many other types of physical violence can be actively avoided.
- Mental Violence: The second concept of violence is the violence of our thoughts, intentions and beliefs. This is relevant because others can often sense negativity and internal states of mind. While not outwardly expressed, these internal feelings can have a powerful effect on others.
- Emotional Violence: Emotional violence occurs when we allow our negative emotions, such as frustration, jealousy, etc. to control our thoughts, speech and actions. These often manifest as harmful or hateful expressions in speech such as gossiping or hurtful words.
Expressions of non-violence in all these forms hold us back. Both internally when we hold on to negative thoughts and externally when we act on those thoughts, we hurt ourselves and others – all life forms, because we are all inter-connected. When we actively practice non-violence, we can pull ourselves out of our suffering, restoring happiness and peace.
It is no coincidence that the first recommendation of Yamas is to practice non-violence. When we understand how broadly it can be applied, we can understand our own being. We can reflect on, express and experience the inherent oneness with ourselves and our surroundings that yoga wants to lead us to. We realize that there is no difference between the self and others; that inner peace and happiness depend on our ability to actively radiate peacefulness from within to the outside world. This is the foundation of relieving ourselves from our suffering – to find our connection to everything and nurture it.
Through the practice of nonviolence, it can become possible to remove the lens through which we may have been viewing the world, seeing ourselves as a separate entity. While separate, we may think that we are treated and must act individually to protect the self, and that some forms of violence are a means of doing so.
It is not a passive practice; the point is not to avoid violence, but to actively treat others well, trying whenever possible to trade it for love and compassion. We can also practice it at all times, not like the asanas where we need extended time or to isolate ourselves in our practice. Practicing non-violence can be done in every moment. It is part of every aspect of breathing, living, and existing.
Gandhi provides us with one of the greatest examples of applying non-violence. He reminds us that when it may seem easy to give up and turn the other cheek, this is not a successful long-term approach. Positive change comes with time, sometimes through a slow, grassroots revolution.
written by Kobi Siman Tov is the co-founder of Vagabond Temple in Cambodia where he is also a yoga and meditation practitioner and teacher, a nutritional and holistic health counsellor and life coach.