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Ashtanga Yoga: Managing Inner Conflict through Ahimsa

Struggle, judgment, conflict, anger or dreams of retribution take up too much space in the average mind, and too much time in the average day. Our stress level is mounting, and our tolerance scarce. Can yoga help us to accept what is, with reasonable understanding and from a place of calm? From corporate executives, to weight lifters, dancers, elderly and children, every person can unwind and benefit from a new perspective.

What leads us there is not as important as the rewards that surface in practice. Yoga leads most people to a place of release, a letting go of the tension and stress wrapped up in knotted muscles, and a letting go of issues, thoughts and beliefs that don't serve us anymore. The rubble seems to clear, and as it clears an inner awareness emerges bringing a feeling of expansion, exhilaration and joy.

In Ashtanga Yoga there is a written path, "Patanjali's Eight Limbed Path of Ashtanga Yoga." The goal of the eight limbs (observances) is ultimately self-realization, uncovering who we are and how we connect to the whole. To follow the eight limbed path is to be free of stress, free of anguish and to be connected in a all-inclusive way.

Ahimsa (Sanskrit, for non-harming) is one of the five Yamas (restraints) the first of the observances on the eight limbed path, and it may well be one of the most difficult.

Ahimsa includes non-violence, meaning non-harming of the self or to any living thing. Can you think of the variety of ways that you struggle with ahimsa every day? 

I recall a wonderful day camping near a lake with our young family. Our children were excited to go fishing with daddy, to dangle their rods over the edge of the dock. Well, I'm not one to put a worm on a hook, but off we went with kids in tow. About 10 minutes into the fishing, I see something horrifying and I cannot participate anymore, in fact I have to go back to the campsite immediately. The fishing policy is catch and release. My husband has only 3 pronged fish hooks. You can image the vision of catching small 4inch fish with three pronged hooks, and then sending them back to the lake marred. The image of it is still disturbing.

Ahimsa, is consciously practicing non-harming thoughts and action. Notice that something emotional or upsetting seems to play over and over in the mind. Yoga teaches us to let go. That moment is in the past. Fretting over the past causes strife in the present moment, and then the beauty of the present is lost. Say what needs to be said with care, and then allow yourself (and the others) to be whole again.

Do not harm the fish. Do not harm the husband. Do not upset the children, but maybe ask them about their observances. Do not harm the self by stewing, blaming, etc.

In yoga, somehow the message of ahimsa comes across and absorbs into the psyche without words. There is an overall feeling of genuine kindness and good. It is worthwhile to delve into the eight limbs of Ashtanga Yoga, spending a month or more with each limb and journaling the wisdom that bubbles to surface.

Practicing Ahimsa invites acceptance, understanding, love and joy into this very moment.

Heather Johnston is a Registered Dental Hygienist and Certified Yoga Instructor. She enjoys all aspects of health, is fascinated with anatomy and evolution, and is always looking for ways to strengthen the body and mind.

Your experience is welcome. Please feel free to leave comments below.

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