Ahimsa: Resisting a Culture of Violence

Ahimsa अहिंसा is one of the five yamas, which are the ethical, moral and societal guidelines for yogis. This principle is concerned with the sacredness of all living things and is an effort to avoid causing harm to them.

Once accepted to the Mary Byerly School of Yoga in Guanacaste, Costa Rica, I devoted months to studying love and yoga. It was in the lush, magical rain forest where I had a visceral experience of ahimsa for the very first time. ‘Ahimsa’ went beyond an intellectual talking point or philosophy; I witnessed and felt it within my community. I was introduced to people who bravely decided to make yoga a way of life, people who make the daily commitment to embody the ethics, people who never allow the notion of ‘just being human’ get in the way of them being excellent towards themselves and others. It was an astounding and necessary shock to my system.

After teaching in Ecuador in 2018, moving back to live in Los Angeles, I found myself re-immersed in a culture that prizes itself on fear— competition, dishonesty, suspicion, over-consumption. I grew physically ill knowing that none of it resonated with my true Self. It was when I audaciously created space in my life to practice stillness, study love and yoga that I found my entire being awakened to the soulful richness and sublime responsibility that comes with the yogic lifestyle. I felt hope spring like a fresh well in my chest. I experienced a community that practiced non-injury with veganism because they understood the unpretentious importance of animals’ lives. I lived with people who embraced, spoke and acted from inner truth. I was afforded the opportunity to witness daily interactions that were built on the basic principle of non-injury, unconditional compassion.

Here I recognized that truth-telling is completely counter to American culture, that is the capitalistic, White-dominant, individualistic, patriarchal Western culture; one that encourages if not demands big lies, white lies, false advertising, lies of omission, overexaggeration, upselling, posturing. It was here that I recognized that one of the most consistent , meaningful ways to detox from and resist such a culture is to embody ahimsa, unconditional truth telling and non-injury. 

“Commitment to truth telling lays the groundwork for the openness and honesty that is the heartbeat of love. When we see ourselves as we truly are and accept ourselves, we build the necessary foundation for self-love.”

bell hooks

Where to start?

It starts with observing (not judging) our thoughts and selecting which to believe, cultivate, and act upon. It starts with being aware of any thoughts of violence towards yourself or others. This is why the loving kindness meditation is so powerful. It allows you to take inventory in delicious solitude. Negative thinking sends messages to the body that triggers the fight, flight, or freeze response and it is exhausting on the body to be in a perpetual state of stress. 

From there, begin to notice your intake and consumption of anything that promotes violence— patters of self-talk, food, beverages, media, social groups, companies, etc. Then it comes easier to observe how you communicate with the people around you. Just sprinkle more consciousness into your life. Something simple as deciding when and how to speak can help strengthen they way we apply ahimsa to our daily lives. Before speaking, ask yourself: 

  1. Is what I’m about to say true?
  2. Is it 100% true or an emotion or reaction?
  3. Is it necessary or helpful?
  4. Can I say it in a kind, compassionate way?
  5. Is now the right time?

If you’re looking to further your study of yoga or have aspirations of transforming your entire life, I suggest taking a close look at Mary Byerly School of Yoga. I almost wanted to keep her a secret all to myself but that would not be very loving. 😀 Truly, her school and teaching has had an invaluable impact on my life and countless others. It’s just too good not to share.

This year, I hope you take a look at how you embody kindness, non-injury, non-violence in your daily life. May you be up for the challenge. May you join us brave ones who are actively and vehemently choosing truth and love.

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