I first really put my mind to what Ahimsa means to me when I wrote about it back in December 2007 as part of my preparations to receive the first five Buddhist precepts in the spring of 2008. There are several areas where the Yamas, as written down by Patanjali, and the Buddhist precepts overlap, especially in the area of what are called the “Grave Precepts“. This is one that is written so many different ways, from merely non-harming to not take life. The Zen teacher John Daido Loori writes this Yama or precept as such, “Affirm life. Do not kill.”

When I have added that positive side to it, the affirmation of life, the concept of Ahimsa becomes much richer and fuller for me. I not only look at how my choices in the world can be a voice for harm-reduction, but for how those choices also cultivate the lives of those around me. It moves me towards slower responses so I have time for greater consideration for the person I am interacting with. It involves being mindful especially when my own irritation arises and learning how not to react instantly. This practice helps me recognize that there are far less harmful ways of achieving results than letting people know I am irritated with their performance. On the occasions when my approach does not mesh well with some one’s personality it helps remind me to not hold onto comments, using negative ones to judge myself relentlessly.

These lessons grow my ability to teach. Ahimsa practice moves me towards deep listening, confirmations, and gentle corrections. I watch my students carefully checking not only for adjustments to alignment and posture, but for strain and upset. Strain can lead to injury of the body, which can be an emotional injury as well. I encourage them to make great effort and feel the heat of it, but with compassion and awareness of where they are in the present. I request that they not merely endure, suffering through class.