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Ahimsa, the first principle of Yoga



Investigating the doctrine of Yoga, even in modern perspective, we find that Yoga contains some moral principles. These principles are called Yama and Niyama.


Unfortunately it is hard to find a comprehensive explanation of Yama and Niyama principles, and since many people don’t really understand the foundations of Yama-Niyama, especially in modern yoga-society, they usually simply forget about them.


But we will start with the fact that Yama-Niyama is not just a list of moral principles as many consider. They are principles of energy management and self control. Without energy management the fruits of your sādhanā will not mature. All in this world requires energy, and people tend to spend it in a wasteful manner when accumulating energy more than usual through yogapractice. Energy can go into food, sex, relationships, shopping, entertainment…. And if it goes there, it doesn’t go into our development as human beings and as yoga-practitioners. Believe me, you need so much good energy to have real progress in yoga-sādhanā, to awaken Kuṇḍalinī and so on. True Guru can give you all this but more about this other time. Yama-Niyamahelps to preserve accumulated energy and to direct it for the self development as yogi.


Also many modern teachers consider Yama-Niyama as the first level of Yoga, therefore subconsciously people think that asana and prāṇāyāma (as next levels) are of higher importance. It is a false understanding because Yoga has no steps or levels. In some texts Yoga was described as aṣṭāṅga — consisting of eight parts (not steps). And all parts of Yoga have the same importance when they are perceived and practiced integrally.


Here I want to give some basis for better understanding of Yama-Niyama, because it has a huge influence on yoga practice. Yama means “self-restraint”, “self-control”, and Niyama is “precept”. We find them in different ancient yoga-texts like Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali, Śāṇḍilya Upaniṣad, Haṭha Yoga Pradīpikā and so on. Patañjali mentioned 5 Yamas and 5 Niyamas, other sources provide 10 of each. There is no one final list of those principles, texts contain differences, but I will explain the main.


First principle — Ahimsa

Ahiṃsā means non-violence in actions, speech and mind. This is not to harm any creature in this world. But why? Because we are this world itself. There is an idea in Yoga (and also a goal) about the sameness of microcosm and macrocosm (piṇḍa and brahmāṇḍa). We and the Universe are totally connected, and even more we are absolutely one, and all boundaries exist in our mind because of Māyā (ignorance). Ahiṃsā is the process of self-control, self-awareness and awareness of all around you. If you harm another person, losing control over mind and actions, you create disbalance inside yourself. Violence means going away from your true nature, and ahiṃsā means closing in to pure spirit.


We all are not kids and we know that this world is full of violence. If you start to think how to follow total ahiṃsā, you discover this is very difficult. Even if we don’t kill anybody, we do some violence in the little things, even when we try to impose our point of view on somebody. That’s why it is hard work when you must sustain control and self-awareness all the time.


Ahiṃsā is also a mystical practice that includes understanding of “hiṃsā”(violence) as a power of saṃhāra (dissolution). Saṃhāra is a natural process of phenomenal world as well as creation and maintenance. We need to accept that hiṃsā is necessary for dharma, the right order of things. Some forms of hiṃsā correspond to dharma, others not and lead to disharmony. So the idea is to develop a bright and clear mind that is able to distinguish these things. Then adherence to ahiṃsā becomes deeper and natural.

And few more words that could close you in to understanding. Ahiṃsā is the non-opposition. It’s a kind of state when there is no reason for violence. Violence is possible when there is some confrontation. It may be even inside of you when you don’t accept something; sometimes don’t accept at all. And from this point of view practice of ahiṃsā is the gradual acceptance of the whole world, and yourself as it’s part, that leads you to the wonderful yogic realisation of unity of self and Universe.

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