The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali were written in 200 BCE and succinctly outline the art and science of Yoga. They were useful thousands of years ago and are still applicable in the present day. Patanjali codified the wisdom of Yoga into four padas (chapters), which were written in sutra form. There are 196 sutras in these four chapters. “The sutras are very concentrated,” says Swami Satchidananda,”study them slowly and carefully and meditate on them.”

The second and third padas, discuss the eightfold path of yoga, called ashtanga, which literally means eight limbs (ashta = eight; anga = limb). The eight limbs are a progressive series of steps or disciplines which purify the body and mind, ultimately leading the yogi to enlightenment. Enlightenment, or liberation, consists of simply waking up to our true nature.

The first two limbs are the Yamas and Niyamas, the yogic precepts for ethical living. They are often referred to as inner and outer restraints. What we restrain however is not our inherent badness or wrongness but our tendency to see ourselves as separate. It is this tendency that causes us to act outside of our true nature. Over the next 10 months we will explore the five Yamas and the five Niyamas, beginning with the first Yama this month: Ahimsa.

Yamas: discipline, restraints, behavior

“That is why yama is so important, for it includes our relationships with different people at different times. In this way we can experience who we are.” – TKV Desikachar

Ahimsa: non-harming, compassion
a: absence of, not
himsa: pain, harming

“In the presence of one firmly established in non-violence, all hostilities cease.” – The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, Sutra II.35
In order not to harm others we must first develop compassion. “The true expression of non-violence is compassion. Compassion compels us to reach out to all living beings,” – HH The Dalai Lama. If we have compassion and can see ourselves in every living being, then we would not cause any harm. The embodiment of true compassion is to want happiness for all living beings, not just human begins. Every single being desires happiness.

Vegetarianism (or Veganism) is an essential component of the practice of Ahimsa. A Vegan is a strict vegetarian which restricts any animal products. “You simply cannot intend to eat another being without harming them first,” says Sharon Gannon, Yogini and Vegan activist. Veganism also prevents harming to our environment. Animal agriculture takes a devastating toll on the earth. It is an inefficient way of producing food, since feed for farm animals requires land, water, fertilizer, and other resources that could otherwise have been used directly for producing human food.

The more you practice ahimsa, the more you come to realize your true nature. Each day this month, set an intention to practice ahimsa as you begin to develop compassion for all living beings. This is the essence of Yoga.