Ahimsa means non-harming. Ahimsa is the essence of yoga. It is the most important of all the five precepts (yama) taught by Patanjali (see Patanjali's Yoga Sutra). When one has realised through meditation the reality of non-duality of all living beings (see The make-up of a Human Being - The Koshas) they realise that causing harm to others is like causing harm to oneself!
Ahimsa (non-harming) is the opposite of himsa (causing harm). In the most obvious sense, himsa is killing and injuring others physically, but also includes upsetting someone emotionally with harsh words or actions, and even thinking hurtful of negative thoughts about others. Thinking negatively about oneself, mistreating oneself, injuring ones own health is also himsa and we must remember this too.
The other 4 behaviours or precepts Patanjali teaches us to observe also boil down to ahimsa. Dishonesty, stealing, indulgence and possiveness all lead us to harm ourselves or others.
Concentrating on ahimsa and making an effort with this precept is not all about becoming a vegetarian (although it is one compelling reason to do so). There are many less obvious ways in which we cause harm to ourselves, those around us and the enviroment.
Practicing yoga will lead us away from the urges, concious and subconcious (see The make-up of a Human Being - The Koshas) to cause harm. We will not want to harm our bodies with cigarettes, excessive alcohol, unhealthy eating or dieting, exposure to chemicals in non-organic foods and beauty products. We will not want to harm the environment by overconsumption of natural resources, contributing to industrial pollution and producing unnessecary rubbish.
In the following blog posts I will reflect on less obvious ways we are behaving harmfully, and simple ways to change.