Ahimsa, or nonviolence, is one of yoga’s ethical principles. Explore its origins and how it might be interpreted and practiced in your everyday life.
When we hear about concepts like nonviolence, we often think of historical figures such as Mohandas Gandhi or Martin Luther King Jr. leading movements for peace in the face of oppression. Several articles mislabel Gandhi as a “father” of nonviolence, not aware that he was symbolically reclaiming India’s rights and identity from the British Raj by embodying what had long been integral to ancient Indian spiritual teachings: ahimsa.
Ahimsa, commonly referred to as “nonviolence” but more literally translated from Sanskrit as “absence of injury” is an ancient concept originating in the Vedas—Indian spiritual and philosophical wisdom dating from as far back as 1900 BCE, or nearly 4,000 years ago. The Vedas, approximately meaning “divine knowledge,” were considered authorless and were originally passed down in oral tradition for centuries. Four Vedas, which make up the Bhagavad Gita, were eventually compiled and written down in Sanskrit by a sage known as Vyasa. Another sage, Patanjali, is said to have studied these Vedic texts and developed what we know as the Yoga Sutra and the basis of classical yoga’s eight limbs.
Ahimsa is part of the first of the eight limbs known as yama, or practices of self-regulation designed to free us from being victims of our own human impulses. Yama practices are likened to cleaning techniques for our minds, bodies, and spirits that allow us to live more conscious, liberated lives. In addition to being a yama in yoga, ahimsa is also a foundational principle of Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism.
See also 10 Ways to Bring the Yamas + …