The practice of non-violence according to yoga, ahiṃsā.

ahimsa nonviolence

When we look for the bases of the philosophy that encompasses the yoga practice, one comes face to face with the concept of non-violence or ahiṃsā. This concept, common to all religions, both Eastern and Western, is here essential to understand the origin of yoga, its ultimate purpose and the path of self-knowledge and growth that it proposes.


Etymologically «ahiṃsā» means non-violence; do not harm, do not harm, no hassles, respect for life; no resistance to evil through violence; no ill intent or harm. It is also one of the virtues yama (first anga or branch of yoga according to Patañjali) of yoga. The word is derived from the Sanskrit root hiṃs: beat; hiṃsā is injury or damage, a-hiṃsā it is the opposite of this, that is, not causing injury, not doing harm. Another translation that does not use the negation would be compassion towards all beings.

«ahiṃsā paramo dharmaḥ sarvaprāṇabhṛtāṃ smṛtaḥ». Mahābhārata XVIII:116.37-41 It is taught that non-violence is the first duty of all beings.

This concept is mentioned many times in different traditional scriptures, thus it is known as a universal and temporary concept. The Indian tradition is basically of oral transmission, so it is complex to decide on a common origin of the concepts or the moment in which they are born. It is mentioned in both the Upanishads, the Vedas, the Yoga-Sūtra of Patañjali, the Mahabhrata and the Bhagavad Gita, among others. But these mentions are not accompanied by an exhaustive study of it. This discussion is left to the masters and disciples.

Ahiṃsā refers both to our actions, words and thoughts. They say that words are more damaging than blows, but this concept goes much further. Our mind must be purified so that the thoughts are also ahiṃsā, so that non-violence is born from our mind. Non-violence in our thoughts towards others, without judging, without criticizing, without trying to impose our criteria or vision. Non-violence in our words, say the right words and that they benefit others, that are born of compassion and not of the ego.

Finally our actions will be non-violent by aligning thought, words and actions. By being more aware of all the power that our mind has.

Teachers and nonviolence

Patañjali describes in his Yoga-Sūtra recommendations to start the practice of yoga. These are eight branches or eight steps that the practitioner or aspiring bliss will walk to achieve the ultimate goal of yoga, enlightenment or bliss. The first and second of these steps: yama Y niyama, form the code of ethical conduct in the philosophy of Yoga, these are restrictions or recommendations collected in two large groups. yama is the relationship with others, and niyama the relationship with ourselves. We already see as "the other", the mirrors will be key to access the ultimate state of yoga. If our actions, acts, meditations, are not for the other, are not for a common good, we are not in the right focus.

Mahatma Gandhi, a great scholar of classical texts, studied, loved and applied the concept of ahiṃsā to peaceful resistance against British colonization. His actions were precursors to the political movement of nonviolence, or peaceful resistance to the oppression of states. Gandhi dedicated his life to discovering and seeking the truth, or satya, and called his move as satyagraha, which means "appeal, insistence or confidence in the Truth". He influenced leaders of the human rights movement such as Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, etc.

Ahimsa Jainism
Ahimsa Jainism symbol

The Jainism that would influence Gandhi is even more restrictive in terms of understanding and implementation of ahiṃsā. Killing any living being for passions is considered hiṃsā (damage) and to refrain from such an act is ahimsa (do not harm), this includes both higher animals and invertebrates. As in Hinduism, the goal is to prevent the accumulation of harmful karma. According to Jain tradition, the recommended diet is lacto-vegetarianism or veganism. When Mahavir he revived and reorganized the Jain faith in the 6th or 5th century BC. C., ahimsa It was already an established and strictly observed rule, which is still maintained even in the secular society of India. 

All these teachers, and many others invite you to practice by example. To extend the concept of non-violence beyond a moral acceptance, but to be the engine of our actions. Do not violate, do not attack, not only others but also ourselves, our body, our soul. But let's see how this concept of non-violence is applied according to yoga.

Non-violence applied to the practice of yoga on the mat

The importance of ahiṃsā as the first restriction in the first step of Yoga (yama), is that it defines the necessary foundation for progress through Yoga. It is a precursor to asana (the postures), which implies that success in Yoga can only be obtained if the self is purified in thought, word and deed through the moderation of ahiṃsā.

Let us remember what are the essential elements for the practice of yoga: our attitude (yamas Y niyamas), attentive attention or observation, sthira-sukha (concept of firmness, balance, comfort and observation) and breathing. All this will form our yoga practice, we cannot understand the postures or the sequences of the vinyasa practice, without applying these four pillars to them. That is why the simple physical practice becomes something more, something that begins with yama, our attitude towards others, whose first concept we have already seen is "ahiṃsā”.

question your practice

In this inner search for self-knowledge of yoga, we inquire about our patterns, our gestures, thoughts and tendencies. Not to judge us or try to add more burden on ourselves, but for our personal evolution. For this we can question ourselves about non-violence in our yoga practice:

  • Is your yoga practice in accordance with the concept of non-violence?
  • Are you forcing the postures?
  • Are you competing with your peers?
  • Do you execute the postures from balance and attentive observation or from another point?
  • Who are you trying to impress with your posture, yourself, your ego, the teachers, anyone who approves of you, your father?
  • Do you practice from fear?
  • Do you practice recklessly?
  • Lazy to practice?
  • Is it the teacher who demands an intense practice that you cannot achieve or the origin of the demand is another?

practice from ahiṃsā

Let's look at the closest translation of not harm, not harm. The practice of yoga should not be harmful, ever. Non-violence according to yoga is part of its motivation and ultimate purpose. Many times it is our mind that makes the practice harmful. It is the competitive mind, the one that is justified in others and deceives itself. Ahiṃsā It is born of oneself, it is something that we have to apply from our heart, that others cannot impose on us, but for this we have to know ourselves, see when we are harming ourselves and why we harm ourselves and that knowledge tool is given by yoga.

If the attitude with which we practice is not to harm ourselves, not harm ourselves and not what type of practice we are doing and/or if we manage to perform more or less postures, our practice will become balanced. A practice with ahiṃsā, where we are no longer lazy that harm your body and health from the neglect and passivity of doing nothing, nor active beings that are harmed from the compulsive and busy action of doing to do. It is normal that we fluctuate from one trend to another, but we must be able to find this balance where we connect with our center and where the benefits of yoga are deeper than our physical well-being or our altered ego.

For this, we only need to remind ourselves to build our yoga practice from respect, practice and self-knowledge.

It is our actions, attitudes and thoughts that will settle in non-violence. Starting with the most physical in our practice, the most tangible and from there reaching the deepest layers of our patterns. From there we will be able to apply non-violence beyond the mat in our acts, words and actions throughout the day and with all beings.

«Ahiṃsā or non-violence, of course, implies not killing. But nonviolence does not refer only to not killing, but ahiṃsā it implies an absolute abstinence from causing any physical or emotional pain to any living being, whether by thought, word or deed. Nonviolence requires a peaceful mind, mouth, and hands." - Mahatma Gandhi
Photo by Javardh on Unsplash

You can come to practice with us from the heart and very focused on ahiṃsā in our Hatha, Vinyasa, Pranayama, Meditation classes. We wait for you.

Silvia Gallego
Hatha Yoga and Pranayama teacher
Yoga for calm mind


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