Ahimsa (ă him să) means do no harm, or to avoid all forms of violence. Harm, in this regard, speaks to the thoughts and/or actions that cause stress, fear, anxiety, depression, anger, and violence.
Ahimsa is one of 10 foundation practices of yoga. Foundational yogic practices address the behavioral and cognitive aspects of a person and coincides with the asanas (postures) to embody an ideal state of being. The goal is to strengthen and adjust behavior for a more balanced and harmonic existence. A means to bringing integrity, a deeper consciousness and joy to life. Through this practice we strengthen our values and become inspired to a productive and thriving life. It is also a method of learning how to deal with anger issues.
This practice is an important factor in Yoga. Let’s look at the benefits from a modern point of view. The idea behind Ahimsa is to address and learn how to deal with anger, and to deal with that part of anger that leads to the harm and violence of others and to self. In these modern times, anger has been rearing up in access. Perfect strangers are lashing out at each other more than before. So, the practice of Ahimsa is a critical practice to understand and adopt.
Developing Awareness in the Practice of Ahimsa
The key start of any yoga practice is developing awareness. This means making the conscious decision to pay close attention to your habits and tendencies, in this specific practice your personality, thought process and actions.
Awareness of how you treat yourself
Outlook & Goals
Bring no harm to your body nor to your mind. Have respect for your physical body, what you put in it, and how you let others handle you. Be aware of how you think about yourself. Work on not being negative around aspects of your life, or being pessimistic in general. Be aware of how you describe yourself to others. Work on not viewing yourself in a belittling manner.
Awareness of how you treat others
Outlook & Goals
Do not bring physical harm to others; especially out of meanness and with no regards of that person being human. Do not put others in the path of harm. Work on not disrespecting another’s body. Be aware of how you think of others. Have a deeper understanding, respect and acknowledgment of another person being a living entity just as you are. If you consider how you would feel if someone was negative to you, you can keep that in mind when considering others. Be aware of how you speak about and speak to others. Choosing your words wisely.
Awareness of how you treat the Earth
Be aware of how you tread upon the earth and the impact you leave and create. We all must be mindful of how we treat our only home that supports us in every way. The respect we show to the Earth allows it to sustain us for many years to come.
What happens to the body when stress is expressed
As mentioned, the practice of Ahimsa observes how causing harm to self and others can cause stress, fear, anxiety, depression, anger, and violence. Each of these factors lead to the body and mind being stressed overall.
When awareness is diminished and Ahimsa is not observed, we are more open to causing harm. We already understand that violence comes out of harvesting anger and the damage that does. But the emotion, anger, can have greater effects on the physical body.
As the awareness and consideration for self and others are diminished, the outcome results to critical dysfunctions. Creating stress in self and in others, leads to imbalances and long-term harm.
What Happens in the Body When Stressed
Effects of Stress
Causes headaches, lack of sleep, digestive problems and stressed (sore) muscles
Adrenals go into overdrive
Creates a rise in blood pressure, heart disease, obesity and diabetes
Disrupts proper kidney function and brain function
Causes malfunctioning and sets a constant state of fight or flight
Onset of depression, anxiety, poor decision making, low self-esteem, lack of confidence
Overall, depletes key chemicals in the brain
Chemicals in the brain
Lowers the level of neurotransmitters that are responsible for balancing mood, the ability to learn, appetite control and sleep. When these functions are out of balance, it can lead to depression and addictions.
Stress can kill cells in the hippocampus (regulates memory and emotions), which leads to poor memory and hinders learning as the hippocampus shrinks. This also diminishes proper functioning in thought processing and the ability of proper expression. Stress can actually, alter the structure of the brain and change the balance of gray matter to white matter and how it connects to the amygdala. Gray matter is packed with nerve cells that provides us with the ability of higher functioning in thinking, computing and decision making (Psychology Today online).
Damage to heart function and liver.
Creating Anger in self and others
Effects of Anger
Anger has a similar effect as stress. Constant anger can do long term harm to the body.
When in an angry state, the brain directs blood away from the organs to provide the muscles with additional blood for additional strength. This can be useful for defending yourself and getting out of harm’s way. However, when in an unhealthy state of anger, this makes the body think it must take action which results in useless violence. Being in constant state of anger does long-term damage to the heart and affects circulation.
Anger depletes the immune system. When the immune system is weak, major illnesses and diseases can take over the body. B cells are not able to do their job efficiently. They are responsible for keeping virus cells in check, and when they are not able to do that, then illnesses like Epstein Barr and Herpes Virus run rampant in the body.
Being in a constant anger state over stimulates the chemicals and nerves in the brain.
The Practice of Ahimsa to Manage Anger
You may want to set a time frame to do a consistent intro practice to get used to adopting a new way of thinking. Ideally, 7-14 day practice. Increase your practice to 30 days.
Start with a 15 minutes meditation and basic pranayama (breathing technique).
Bring in the awareness practice. Actively practice loving kindness. Start with self, then expand to family and friends, then to others. May your thoughts be full of kindness. May your words be filled with kindness. And when you are faced with someone who much rather push you than accept your kindness, take a few deep breaths and walk away.
Be on the look out for a more comprehensive practice of Ahimsa and other foundation practices in yoga.
Sign up and become a subscriber to be the first in the know.