6 Ways To Practice Ahimsa (Nonviolence) In Daily Life
As Mahatma Gandhi famously said: "Be the change you wish to see in the world".
So ask yourself, what world do you want to live in? What people do you want to meet on your path?
And then be that, and watch as your world starts to mirror it back to you.
This is why the practice of nonviolence, or Ahimsa can be one of the most transformational things you can do for yourself and the world you live in. It is an element of yoga philosophy which strengthens and improves the flexibility of your mind and consciousness, as opposed to your body, which is delivered by the physical asana practice.
If you're not familiar with the concept of Ahimsa or would like to get a deeper understanding of it, check out my recent blog with an in-depth explanation.
Here are some simple ways of reducing the harm in your own day-to-day life:
1. Eat a healthy vegetarian plant-based diet to nourish your body
You only get one body and it's important to understand how precious it is. It's easy to forget and only realise the precious gift of a healthy body when we are faced with health problems, serious injuries or terminal illnesses.
As they say, you are what you eat. And our bodies being such complex systems, need a wholesome balanced diet.
Feeding your body with living plants which draw their nutrients and minerals from the Earth fuels you with that energy.
Consider what sort of fuel you're getting from the flesh of a dead animal which has been fed with all sorts of hormones to only then be killed for profit?
By indulging too much in meat, you are not only causing harm to your own body and mind but also contributing to the ongoing cruelty and killing of animals.
Within the yogic philosophy, besides what you eat, there is a huge emphasis on how you eat. One of my teachers in India told me to 'drink my food, and eat my water'. What he was trying to emphasize is chewing the food to the point where it becomes almost liquid (this aids digestion), and getting more water into your system from water-based fruit and vegetables such as watermelon and cucumber.
Another thing we were taught and practised was to send love/good intentions/prayers to your food before you eat it so that you can consume all that good energy with it :)
2. Take care of yourself
Everyone is going on about this, right?
Yet how many of us actually apply this in life consciously? And I don't mean having baths, going to a spa or allowing yourself a day of Netflix binge.
I mean taking care of yourself through conscious decision making. Choosing to do things that feed your soul and spirit, things that your future you will thank you for.
The Netflix binge may sound appealing after a long stressful week at work when all you need is to switch off. But is staying indoors, staring at a screen in a sedentary position, and probably munching on some empty calories at the same time going to be the most beneficial way to spend your day off? And is it going to deeply nourish and rejuvenate the current and future you?
As human beings, we have a few basic needs. One of them is social interaction, others include (I believe) connection to nature and physical movement. Personally, these three things work wonders when it comes to boosting or resetting my mood.
So on your day or evening off, you could choose Netflix or you could think of other ways that would let you switch off and regenerate - maybe going on a bike ride with a few friends? That activity seems to tick a few more of the 'human needs' boxes.
After spending time outdoors, with people you love, breathing in the fresh air and listening to birds chirping away, you are more likely to feel satisfied and ready to start a new week. Plus, the more exciting and differentiated your experiences are the more long-term memories you will store - ones that can lift you up whenever you're feeling down.
As a university student, I've done a fair amount of those Netflix binge evenings or afternoons and I can honestly say, I do not remember them that well, except for the fact that I did spend hours staring at a screen. Now, instead of uplifting memories, I get the feeling of guilt for wasting all that time (if I only I knew then how much of my free time is going to disappear in my post-uni life! 😫).
I'm not saying watching TV/Netflix or spending time passively is bad.
All I'm saying is question your choices and see if the ways you choose to take care of yourself, do actually provide a real sense of satisfaction or if they work more like a band-aid, covering up some deep yearning for a sense of connection, love, peace or whatever it is for you. By choosing the ones that only create an illusion of what you truly want, you are causing harm to yourself and those around you.
Note, however, that what that right thing for you is will change depending on the situation. It requires you to tune in, which is where the next thing comes in.
I hear you say 'that's not for me, I tried and I just cannot sit still'.
That's great! You've discovered that for yourself so far. Now take it a step further.
What movement meditation can you do?
What about ecstatic dance?
(by yourself, behind closed doors, when no one else is home? - yes, that's allowed 😉)
Or combine the two! First, do the fiery movement stuff, then sit down and observe your thoughts. In fact, that's the whole philosophy behind doing your asana yoga practice first - preparing/tiring your body out to be able to sit still.
Seriously, meditation does not have to be what you see on adverts - blissed out, calm individuals with a perfect posture and glowing skin. Forget how it looks like, focus on what it feels like.
Commit to 3 minutes a day.
Just 3 minutes to watch what's happening in your head, 3 minutes of not following the various thought threads.
Over time, you'll be able to do it for longer, and you will want to do it for longer!
And with that, what will come is more awareness in your daily life, more opportunities to pause before you say something hurtful, more moments where you notice you're sabotaging yourself with your own thoughts.
And finally, more scope to change those habitual patterns and instil more harmony into your life.
4. Use your on mat practice
Yoga can also be another form of movement meditation. You can also use the time you give yourself on the mat to practice nonviolence. Once you step on the mat, check in with yourself on some of these questions:
- Is your practice disciplined or as per your mood?
- Do you harm yourself in any way by either being too pushy or being too lazy?
- Do you deny your body rest when needed?
- Are you aware of the flow of your breath throughout the practice?
- Do you glance at the other students in the room and compare yourself to them?
- Do you base your self worth on whether you can do a certain pose or not?
- Do you judge and criticise parts of your body when you get into certain postures?
- Do you get mad at yourselves for your chattering mind in savasana or in meditation?
The more you practice noticing these things on your mat, the more you'll notice similar patterns off the mat.
5. Selfless service
Ahimsa doesn't stop with us, it involves all those around you. The simplest way to practice this is to find a way to help others without expecting anything in return. Find a cause that is close to your heart and volunteer your time/skills to help out.
I am yet to implement this myself and stop finding excuses like not having enough time.
6. Take care of the planet
It hurts me to see how we are collectively destroying the planet we live on. The amounts of litter that is being dropped, as if it was going to magically disappear after a while without any repercussions.
I think what helps is to think about the planet as our home. Because it is our home...we haven't got another planet to relocate to just yet.
Would you litter in your own home? Do you drop crisp wrappers on your living room carpet and leave it there? Do you damp bags of rubbish in the corner of the room?
The answer is obviously, no. You don't. And I bet most of you don't do that outdoors either.
But if you were to see someone else do it, I think it's our responsibility to educate the other person. That way you can take the no harm stance to another level in your daily life. This can apply to all the other ways that we mistreat our planet.
Remaining conscious of what you buy and the amount of plastic packaging involved is also important. There was a great campaign started by Waitrose branch recently, and it would be great to see more supermarkets following their example.
Essentially, what it boils down to, is greater awareness and conscious living. The more conscious you are of the interconnectedness of all things the easier it will be to integrate any of the above 6 into your life, whether it comes to your diet, self-care, stilling the mind through meditation, conscious yoga practice, selfless service or caring for the environment.
When you become fully conscious of those things, they are no longer the 'good/right things to do in order to live a good life', they simply become the thing you do.
Share your thoughts or experiences in the comments below!
May you reap the benefits of nonviolence. Have a good weekend and week ahead, friends.