Men are born soft and supple; dead they are stiff and hard… Thus whoever is stiff and inflexible is a disciple of death. Whoever is soft and yielding is a disciple of life. ~ Tao Te Ching
The First Limb of yoga is the Yamas or restraints, which offer us five ways to practice wisely in our interactions in the world. Non-violence (“Ahimsa” in Sanskrit) is the first of the restraints. We can practice non-violence in many ways, externally with others and internally within our selves. At first the idea of non-violence may seem fairly clear-cut — either you punch someone in the nose or you don’t, right?!
But like most things in life, there may be gray areas. A friend recently faced such a gray area when her beloved old pet sickened and began to suffer from what was apparently cancer. For a while, non-violence and compassion meant providing for her pooch as much comfort and relief from pain as possible. But eventually, as her canine friend’s health declined, she knew that a peaceful death would be kinder than more suffering. What an interesting irony that our softness and reverence for life is what may allow us to recognize that even death may hold a certain kind of compassion.
We practice Ahimsa in our on-the-mat yoga practice by finding compassion for our bodies as they flow from stiffness to suppleness; by exercising non-judgmental self-awareness as our monkey minds lose focus on the breath; and by letting go into the restfulness of savasana at the end of each practice. How can we bring Ahimsa with us to everyday life?