In yogic philosophy Ahimsa is one of the 5 Yamas, the moral guidelines on how to live orderly within society.

In the Hindu and Buddhist tradition ahimsa simply means the respect for all living things and the avoidance of violence towards others.

In Sanskrit ‘a’ always means a negation, here without or non, and ‘himsa’ means violence.

In a broader sense, Ahimsa is being impeccable with our words, our thoughts and our actions.

Ahimsa on the Mat.

In yoga practice ahimsa means observing, respecting & responding to our body’s limitations and physical sensations.  It means allowing for a physical sensation, yet not tolerating pain.  It is the notion of cultivating the balance between effort and ease.  It allows us to become aware of our comfort zone, and lets us slowly increase this range of comfort in a safe and healthy way, using the breath.  Ahimsa is being fully present in our body.  It also refers to the absence of comparison.  Comparing our practice to that of someone else is not only disrespectful toward ourselves but also completely useless, as there will always be a person with more open hips or shoulders, or stronger core and legs.  And it disrespects our own and the other persons practice on that day.  Ahimsa is kindness, gentleness as well as assertive tenderness that we ought to display as we move through the asana practice.  Fully aware and mindful of what is.  And we will use that skill we learn on the mat, in our lives off the mat.

Another way ahimsa is practiced on the mat is the idea of coming into a yogic state in our yoga practice.  This means coming away from needing or wanting to achieve something.  The end outcome is not a posture to master or nail, it is simply to come into our yogic state, with the use of the breath.  Smooth, soft diaphragmatic breathing to come into a state of rest and digest.  To effect positive change in the way we live our life and our relationships.

Ahimsa Off the Mat.

Off the mat we are encouraged to live with a balance between effort and ease. If we constantly push too hard against our physical, mental and emotional body and wellbeing, we are becoming depleted of energy and dis-ease sets in.  Yet if we stay inside our comfort zone, there will be no growth.

The way we can practice ahimsa off the mat and in our lives is simply by cultivating the qualities of love and compassion.  Loving deeply and being loved, by either a partner, children, friends or a pet, is a conscious act of ahimsa.  Being mindful of our own words, thoughts and actions, so as to not harm and still be truthful, can be another way of practicing ahimsa apart from a yoga posture practice.

Some Yogis embrace a vegetarian diet, for reasons of non-violence against animals.  Personally, I feel the idea of non-violence towards ourselves takes priority.  So if your decision is to include meat as a way of nurturing your body and keeping a balanced and healthy mind and body, or in other words if you keep a conscious balance, then that is ahimsa and has priority over any more dogmatic reasons.

As Buddha is often quoted:

“The thought manifests as the word.  The word manifests as the deed.  The deed develops into habit.  And habit hardens into character.  So watch the thought and its ways with care, and let it spring from love born out of concern for all beings.  As the shadow follows the body, as we think, so we become.”


Our closing chant after yoga class lokah samastah sukhino bhavantu” – May all beings everywhere be happy and free, and may our thoughts, our words and our actions somehow contribute to that intention, is another way to express and practice ahimsa, on and off the mat.

Thank you for considering ahimsa on and off the mat.

Let me know how it goes for you.