Ahimsa is one of the five yamas, which is the first "limb" of the great sage Patanjali's eightfold path (ashtanga) as described in the Yoga Sutras. Ahimsa is considered to be the most important of the five types of yamas because it represents the right attitude necessary to lead a moral life. Ahimsa is the absence of violence in physical, mental and emotional forms.
The sages of the past practiced ahimsa as part of their spiritual development. Practicing ahimsa challenges yogis on both the physical level and mental level. For example, words that can cause pain to others should not be uttered.
Practicing ahimsa generates mental fortitude. Refraining from retaliating when insulted or unjustly criticized requires more strength than fighting back. Practicing ahimsa takes courage, as only those who can resist reacting can practice ahimsa.
Benefits of ahimsa include:
- Increases will power.
- Cultivates compassion.
- Develops love for self and others.
- Purifies thoughts.
- Helps to achieve peace of mind.
Regular practice of yoga can help to develop this attitude of non-harming. Yoga calms the mind, increases self-awareness and helps one to recognize the supreme expression of Self.