You might have heard of the concept of non-violence, maybe you even know that in Sanskrit is called Ahimsa, but what is exactly Ahimsa, why should we practice it and most importantly, HOW? Let’s dive in.

Why we need to practice ahimsa

Ahimsa. Often translated as non-violence, is the first of the Yamas.

The Yamas, together with the Niyamas, form the ethical and moral guidelines at the basis of the Ashtanga yoga system as it was established in the Yoga Sutras by Patanjali at some point between the 2nd and 4th century CE.

The Yamas are primarily concerned with our world and our relationship with it. To learn and unpack these principles gives us more understanding of ourselves helping us gain more self-awareness. 

These are not abstract principles, The yamas and niyamas are ways of building personal fortitude, which gives insight into managing stress and internal and external conflict. 

We live in a world more and more polarised where violence and fear are normalised. Thankfully ahimsa is one of the tools we have to live with more kindness and courage.

So, what is ahimsa exactly?

The practice of non-violence extends to all aspects of life, from the physical to the mental and emotional. It’s easy to brush over it and think: “I’m ok, I’m not a violent person”

But to what degree? Ahimsa is more than just ‘non-violence’, it implies to live in such a way that we cause no harm in thought, speech, or action to any living being, including ourselves.

If instead of ‘non-violence’ we translate it as ‘absence of injury’ then we can start to see the more subtle nuances of the word ahimsa.

Not just physical injury, but verbal and mental too. And not just to other people but to other creatures, beings, environment and as we already mentioned, to ourselves!

Most of us tend to have injurious thoughts toward ourselves. I know I do! We say to ourselves things we would never say to our friends! 

And not just thoughts, we act in ‘injurious’ ways towards ourselves and towards those we love in very subtle, and not-so-subtle ways!

If you are starting to see the depth of this practice and maybe having thoughts like, ‘gosh, this is too much, I can’t really be checking out my thoughts all the time’, or ‘I can’t do all this’.

The key is in the word “practice”. Ahimsa is not just a ‘command’ that needs doing, is a whole practice, like when you are practising asanas on the mat, or practice playing an instrument, or any other activity.

The word ‘practice’ helps us understand that this is something that requires work and time and that we shouldn’t be too hard on ourselves, but simply continue practising consistently and with awareness and forgiving ourselves when needed.

How do we practice Ahimsa then?

It’s a multilayered practice. You can practice ahimsa toward yourself, toward the people closer to you, toward your community, and finally extend it further to your environment, larger community and all creatures.

Start simply. Instead of thinking in ‘negative’ terms… ‘I will not harm’, think what is the opposite of it, and turn it into a positive and use it as a mantra, for example ‘Today I’ll be kind with my words’, ‘Today I’ll act with compassion to myself and others’

  • It can be a physical practice. For example:

– I’ll look after my body, keeping it healthy and mobile.

– I will avoid violent or upsetting gestures toward others.

– I will look after my surroundings keeping the environment clean 

  • It can be a mental practice:

– I’ll practice talking to myself with kindness and respect, even when I’ve made a mistake

– I’ll carefully choose my words when talking to others

  • It can be an emotional practice:

– Emotional violence may look like using excessive criticism, lack of support, being dismissive, etc

Are you feeling ready to start incorporating a bit more Ahimsa in your life? Ask yourself what step can you take today and just post reminders to yourself to check often with your actions, words and thoughts.

Also, if you’d like to dive a little bit deeper into the 5 Yamas of Patanjali whilst practising Vinyasa on the mat, check out my online course ‘Vinyasa and the Yamas’

Montse’s background

Montse has been working for the last 30 years in the world of theatre and performance as a director, mentor and performer. Her passion for sharing her knowledge and her desire to help others realise their true potential has led her onto the path of yoga teaching.

Her classes are relaxed, friendly and with elements of yin, hatha, vinyasa and humour where everyone feels welcome, regardless of their skill. Montse’s motto is ‘be your own template’, both in life and in yoga.

Your shape is unique and so is your life so don’t follow the ‘should be like this’ crowd and don’t try to fit into anyone else’s path, find your own… on and off the mat.


If you’d like to start a yoga practice or find some consistency, plus get a little taster for different yoga tools…

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