Ahimsa: Showing Yourself Kindness


As I explained in my earlier post, the next 10-week session of yoga, from January to April 2021, will focus on the yamas and niyamas: the “dos” and “don’ts” of yoga.


The first of the yamas is ahimsa: non-harming or non-violence. Seems very reasonable that this would be the first of the precepts that one should follow to live a good and peaceful life. And it seems pretty simple. Probably most of us are relatively non-violent people. We don’t go around kicking puppies or getting into bar brawls. However, ahimsa also applies to more subtle, covert forms of harm, and it applies to the way we treat ourselves, as well as how we treat other people.


Most of us try to be understanding and supportive of others, but where does this kindness go when we make a mistake or are going through a tough time? Often, we speak to ourselves in ways we would never speak to another person. Honestly, if someone spoke to me the way I have been known to speak to myself, I would “unfriend” them without hesitation. However, as this is not an option, I have been gradually working at creating a healthier, more supportive relationship with myself.


Thinking about how you would treat a friend can be a good starting point for learning how to talk to yourself kindly. When a friend comes to you with a problem, you don’t likely say, “Suck it up. It’s no big deal” or “What’s wrong with you? How did you even get yourself into this situation?” (phrases that I often use on myself). Hopefully, you listen to your friend and show some empathy, saying something like, “That’s terrible. I am sorry that you are going through this.”


What would happen if we took this approach with ourselves? What if we showed ourselves the same respect and kindness that we show our friends? What if we took a moment to acknowledge the hardship we are facing and said, “This is hard. I am sorry that you are dealing with this”? We might even give ourselves a soothing touch, such as placing our hand on our heart or giving ourselves a bit of a squeeze. We might acknowledge that there is nothing wrong with the way we are feeling; all people feel this way sometimes. Then we might ask what we can do to help. Sometimes just acknowledging and being with the difficult feeling is enough to comfort us. Sometimes we might want to take a walk or do something else nice for ourselves, not to rid ourselves of our difficult feelings, but to put ourselves in a state where we are better able to handle whatever we are going through.


If you need some help cultivating a sense of compassion toward yourself, I have recently added a meditation to my site entitled “Compassion for a loved one and ourselves.” It could provide a good starting point. I also recommend any of Kristen Neff’s meditations.

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