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8 ways to implement Ahimsa in modern life

8 ways to implement Ahimsa in modern life

Written by Rachel Boddy

Following on from the last post about how to implement the principle of Asteya (non-stealing), I thought it would be a good idea to explore the principle of Ahimsa (non-violence) in the same way.
“Yeah, yeah, yeah. I’m not an idiot: to be a basic human being you should not steal and you should not be violent. Duh!”

But as we explored with Asteya, non-violence covers a multitude of issues:

  • Are you violent towards your environment?
  • Do you harm others with your words?
  • Are you violent towards or hard on yourself?

We see the words ‘harm’ and ‘violence’ as extreme. And whilst you may not intend to be violent or harmful, they can often be the consequence of our actions.

Here are just some examples, and solutions, of how we are ‘harming’ everyday:

1. Food choices:

Now this one might appear to be the most obvious: omnivores technically kill or harm animals to get their food.

Whether it’s the slaughter of a pig to have bacon, or the industrialised milking processes of cows to get milk, animals will experience some level of harm in satisfying the omnivore diet.

I’m not here to recommend a vegan diet, but just making small changes in your food choices can make a huge difference in the food chain.

You could try:

  • Only buy organic, free-range eggs
  • Switch to dairy-free milk alternatives to dairy
  • Swap one meal a day with a vegetarian option.
  • Make one day a week ‘Vegan Day’ — more eateries are catering for the vegan diet and there are tonnes of inspiring recipes online to choose from.

2. Cosmetics and bodycare:

When you buy a lipstick or bodywash, what convinces you to buy one over the other?
Brand recognition?
Celebrity endorsement?
Smell and feel?
How about whether they are cruelty free or not?

There is a growing tribe of cruelty-free (and vegan) cosmetic brands. Cruelty-free means the products do not harm or kill animals, and do not conduct animal testing.

Next time you buy another cosmetic product, check the labelling for the ‘cruelty-free’ stamp of approval.

This blog contains an extensive list of cruelty free makeup and bodycare brands.

3. Self-talk:

This kind of harm is something most of us do every day, consciously or subconsciously.

It’s a mental processed that has been engrained into us based on a simple premise that is sold to us: “we are not good enough”.

Whether it’s in magazines or social media feeds, we’re always being invited to compare ourselves and subsequently tell ourselves we’re not like them so we musn’t be good.

I recently watched the fantastic documentary ‘Embrace’ which delved into the murky world of self-talk and body image. I found it truly shocking to see how many women (it was focussed on women, of course) called themselves ‘disgusting’ in reference to their own bodies.

THAT is a form of harming, and a form of violence towards yourself.

Here are some ways you can undo the harming self-talk:

  • Write down one thing A DAY (yes, every day) that you like about yourself, about your physical self or personality.
  • When you start going down the road of self-talk (looking at magazine ads, etc), STOP and immediately do something else that benefits you. Read a book, go for a walk, do some exercise, call a friend.
  • Start setting goals. Telling yourself you are too fat takes up so many brain nuggets and massive chunks of your time. Instead, use that energy and time to work towards annual goals. Break them down into chunks (by month or quarter), and use that precious time towards something of value, not of harm.

4. Yoga:

Obviously I’m a yoga convert, but there are many different types of yoga, and not all of them fit the Ahimsa principle.

Restorative Yoga, however, is all about non-violence.  It’s about recovering physically and mentally, just truly looking after yourself.

I highly recommend taking part in a restorative yoga class or workshop at least once every three months, as part of your Ahimsa practice.

Joanne Ewen runs amazing Restorative Yoga Workshops on a regular basis – find the next one here.

5. Waste

When I was growing up, everything went in the bin.

And as we know now, everything going in the bin= enormous, harmful landfills that don’t degrade.

I remember city-wide recycling policies being introduced very slowly when I was a teenager, and now you’d be a social pariah if you DIDN’T recycle.

The recycling movement took a lot of logistics but also a massive amount of education over a sustained period of time.

And by all accounts, it has worked. The 5p plastic bag charge in the UK has made great inroads at getting people to change their habits.

But there is always more we can do to do less harm to our environment:

  1. Minimise the packaging. I mean literally crush it down to its smallest size to take up less space.
  2. Make a conscious decision NOT to buy items in plastic containers: put fruit in a paper bag, buy toothbrushes in sustainable packaging, choose glass over plastic bottles where possible.
  3. Mend clothes, don’t throw them away. I am particularly bad at this, principally because I lose patience at the thought of threading a needle. I’ll never throw clothes in the bin, and always send them to charity shops, but I know I could make more of an effort in the haberdashery department.

6. Transport:

Our choice of transportation, has an immediate impact on the environment: toxins = harm.

But sometime transportation options are just not available to you, and you HAVE to drive to get from A to B.

If that’s the case, here are some options to implement Ahimsa in your transportation:

  1. Don’t park your car at your destination – park a bit further away and add a walk to your journey. Start with 10 mins and build up to 30 mins. Your body will thank you too!
  2. Look at changing your vehicle to a fuel-efficient, hybrid or even electrical model. Many newer cars are championing fuel-efficiency and cost as much as their competitors.
  3. Car share – no, not the amazing comedy show with Peter Kay (although we’d love to car share with him!). Talk to your neighbours and colleagues to see if you can split the cost of the daily journey

7. How you talk to others:

Spoiler alert: everyone gossips.

And it doesn’t make you a bad person.

Gossiping, or talking about others, is actually a key component to creating community. It helps us process other people’s actions.

But what you say to people’s faces, or in their vicinity can be very harmful, even if it’s not intentional.

I’ve had many family members affected by negative talk, and it is contagious: people who always respond with a negative, bosses who bully their subordinates, teachers who tell you you’re useless. This is all learned behaviour and easily passed on through generations.

You can help break this cycle by making these small changes:

  • Pay someone a compliment.
  • Don’t agree with a negative person – if the keep a conversation going with negative comments, don’t encourage them by saying ‘yeah, you’re right, it’s crap’. Get out of that cycle.
  • Be nice on social media. Many people seem to treat comments in social media channels as an extension of the comments section of the Daily Mail. Social media is in fact a place for good. Making a nice, positive comment on someone’s feed can really make their day. It’s a form of virtual endorsement.

8. Pain = no gain:

Every time I teach a yoga class I tell people ‘Pain equals NO gain’.

You’re not on this earth to hurt yourself.

Exercising shouldn’t be painful.

If it is, STOP.

I’ve personally experienced this through painful Chaturangas (that’s a whole other topic we need to discuss) and amazingly, the pain didn’t make it better! Only worse, and so I had to start from the beginning…again.
If you find a movement or exercise painful, stop doing it and look for help. Whether it’s in the form of a teacher, a therapist or a trainer, there are plenty of people to help you move your body without pain.


These suggestions for implementing Ahimsa are small choices you can make that will set a chain reaction of non-harming results.

Most of these harmful acts are ingrained habits that will take time to undo.

But once you start the process of unraveling, it will be easier to implement Ahimsa.


Written by Rachel Boddy

Meadowlark Yoga

Visit our studio on the edge of the Meadows, open 7 days a week offering Ashtanga Vinyasa and other styles of yoga.contact@meadowlarkyoga.com 43 Argyle Place, Edinburgh, EH9 1JT 0131 2287581