The Yogic Lifestyle: Compassionate and Caring
Taking care of yourself, others and the world around you – that is what the practice of ahimsa or non-violence encompasses. Non-violence is one of the basic moral and ethical principles in yoga philosophy, a principle that can help you to contribute to a compassionate and harmonious world.
What does it mean to be non-violent? If you are non-violent to yourself, you take care of yourself. You make sure you eat nutritious food and drink clean water, breathe in fresh air, surround yourself with a healthy and nourishing environment. Taking care of yourself also means you take regular exercise, but at the same time allow yourself to rest and recover. And it means you stay in touch with the people you love and take your time to do the things you love. A simple exercise that you can do to check if you take care of yourself, is to make a list of all these domains: eating habits, exercise, relaxation, social relationships, career and leisure. Which of these domains need a little more attention?
If you feel uncomfortable taking care of yourself, think about the following metaphor. If you are on an airplane, the instruction for the oxygen masks in case of emergency is always to make sure you take responsibility for your own safety first, because then you are strong enough to help others as well. The same applies to life as a whole – if you are one of the many people who would rather think about others than about yourself, think again. Taking care of yourself makes you stronger, and thereby actually serves your purpose of helping others!
Then, what does it take to be non-violent to others? The first thing that may come to mind is not to be aggressive, but there’s more to the quality of non-violence. It also means that you treat others the way you would like to be treated yourself, that you respect others’ needs and support the people around you. For example, you are there for your friends and help your family if they need you. But you can also practice non-violence in your interactions with strangers: smiling and greeting the people you pass on the street, help out someone in trouble, try to understand an angry reaction. It’s an altruistic and compassionate way of acting in the social world.
Although non-violence is often defined as not harming, you can also interpret it more positively: to increase compassion towards others. Compassion, in yoga philosophy, is an unconditional form of love for all beings, accepting them without judging. A nice way to express compassion is through random acts of kindness. Random acts of kindness include anything, big or small, that make other people happier. You may leave a note wishing someone a nice day, share some sweets with a stranger, or help an elderly person passing the street. Anything to spread loving kindness in society! Can you think of some other ideas?
Lastly, non-violence includes taking care of the world around you. You could express this by protecting the environment, keeping the city or street you live in safe, doing volunteer work or contributing to charities you believe make a difference. And to take the idea of altruism a little bit further, as the Buddhist monk Mathieu Ricard describes in one of his famous books*, it also means you are aware of the impact you have on the planet and all living beings you share it with. Therefore, you could also think of adapting a vegetarian or vegan diet or working on wildlife conservation as a way of integrating non-violence into your life.
It’s a very broad range in which you can practice non-violence, so it may seem somewhat overwhelming. Don’t worry – there are many things to choose from, just see what suits you most. Maybe just being aware of the things you can do in daily life to moderate your impact on the world around you is a good start already. What would you like to do at this moment to experiment with non-violence? Share how you are contributing to a compassionate and caring world in the comments to inspire each other!
*Further reading: Altruism by Matthieu Ricard
Conscious Contributor: Lana Donse
As a yoga teacher and psychologist, Lana’s aim is to guide people through the process of finding harmony and freedom in their lives. She believes that yoga can help to broaden your mind, strengthen your body and deepen your experiences.
Lana started yoga in her teenage years, initially as a physical practice that she felt made her move with more awareness in her body. Gradually, she discovered that yoga also affected her on a mental level. She learned about yoga philosophy when she travelled in India and Nepal, which opened up a whole new world for her. Yoga has become a way of living in which she can find balance, love and freedom. She hopes to share the wisdom of yoga with the community in the classes she teaches and the blogs she writes.