By Dr Reetu Verma
Photo by Mick Haupt on Unsplash
I am often asked how I always remain happy even during my biggest struggles in life? My response is being in a state of happiness is the way I choose to live. Happiness is my journey, not my destination. I adopted this life philosophy through my practice of Yoga.
Yoga has played a big role in my life, not just physical yoga classes a few times a week, (although I do those too) but the principles and practices of Yoga, as described in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali.
Yoga is often thought of as a purely physical practice. However, the physical postures known as asana is only one of the 8 limbs of Yoga. Patanjali’s eightfold path of Yoga consists of a set of prescriptions for a morally disciplined and purposeful life.
What is Yoga?
- Yoga, derived from the Sanskrit language, means union, to unite, to connect.
- Yoga is also the removal of the fluctuations of the mind.
What is it that we are connecting to? The thing we most look to connect to is Self (also known as divine essence, atman, spirit or soul). Why must our mind be still? Yoga is the stilling of the mind. When the fluctuations of the mind are totally removed, we experience oneness – union with everything and everyone.
“When you are steadfast in your abstention of your thoughts of harm directed towards yourself and others, all living creatures will cease to feel fear in your presence”.
I took this statement as being divine love. As I became more and more aware of this and integrated it into my daily life through the practice of the traditional yoga principles, the result was the experience of the divine essence within; the oneness. Divine love is nothing more than the desire to merge (Yoga) with the divine – this has nothing to do with any religion, this is about union with yourself, your creator, with everyone, with nature, with all. This is true happiness.
The first limb of Yoga: Yama
The first limb of Yoga is Yama, (abstinence/self-restraint), which consists of restraining from harmful physical urges and unwholesome thoughts, speech and action. Yamas are ethical restraints and moral imperatives (the “don’ts”) in Hinduism. Yama is regarded as the foundation or root of the tree of Yoga. Yamas consist of 5 following practices:
- Ahimsa: nonviolence, freedom from harming
- Satya: truthfulness in thought, speech and action
- Asteya: freedom from stealing
- Brahmacharya: moderation, chastity and marital fidelity
- Aparigraha: non-possessiveness and non-hoarding
Ahimsa is the very first Yama. Ahimsa is the practice of nonviolence in everyday life: physically, mentally, emotionally. It is built on the premise of NO harm by thoughts, words or actions. Ahimsa translates from Sanskrit as to be without harm not only to oneself and others but to all living beings. But more than not doing violence, more than just an attitude, it is a whole way of life. Practising Ahimsa is the root of the spiritual practice of Yoga.
All of our thoughts, words and actions create an impression in our body and mind. If we want true happiness, it needs to come from ourselves. And that means coming from a place of love towards ourselves and others, even when we are irritated, angry or hurt. This is Ahimsa, or nonviolence. And daily practise guides us in living a happy life.
Making the conscious choice for kind and loving and positive action is the first step of practising Ahimsa. We must embrace love and learn not only to give love generously but also to receive it.
Practising Ahimsa starts with yourself, being aware of your internal mental dialogue and changing it to one of loving-kindness. Showing compassion and love towards yourself and learning to accept and love even the darker parts of you, free you to be genuinely compassionate and loving to others.
Ahimsa means being kind to all living beings, respecting nature, treading lightly. A plant-based diet and caring for our environment are part of the philosophy of Ahimsa.
Practising Ahimsa means being consciously aware of our thoughts and actions. Try observing and acknowledging your thoughts without judgement. Meditation and mindfulness are useful tools to help learn how to do this.
Childs Pose is an Ahimsa-focused asana practice which allows you to rest, relax and restore you to a state of calmness. This curled up position, makes you aware of your breathing which helps you relax your mind and have an awareness of your thoughts.
Gandhi and Ahimsa
Mahatma Gandhi based his life on the principle of Ahimsa.
“Nonviolence is not a garment to put on and off at will. Its seat is in the heart, and it must be an inseparable part of our very being.”
– Mahatma Gandhi
Mahatma (meaning) ‘Great Soul’ or “Bapu”, father of the nation as he was affectionately known practised Ahimsa daily. For Gandhi, not only was Ahimsa a daily practice, but also a powerful tool for social change. He used the principle of Ahimsa in the Indian Independence movement.
Gandhi believed the practice of true Ahimsa was a practice of truthfulness, humility, tolerance, loving kindness and oneness. It was the fundamental core value for him.
His birthday, 2nd October is a national holiday in India and celebrated worldwide as the International Day of Nonviolence. The United Nations General Assembly resolution (A/RES/61/271) of 15 June 2007 declared this day as an occasion to “disseminate the message of non-violence, including through education and public awareness”. It reaffirms “the universal relevance of the principle of non-violence” and the desire “to secure a culture of peace, tolerance, understanding and non-violence”.
Yoga and Happiness
Yoga is a practice that enriches and transforms every aspect of our lives. It is about learning to be kind, loving and peaceful within ourselves, creating oneness with our true nature. The root of yoga is nonviolence, which comes from loving and accepting ourselves as we are right now. When you can do this, you will not only transform yourself, but you will benefit everything and everyone around you.