Ahimsa for the Holidays.
Ahimsa for the Holidays.
Ahimsa for the Holidays.
This phrase has been rolling around in my brain since Thanksgiving, begging me to consider what it would mean to live the principle of Ahimsa - nonviolence - during the holiday season. Surely, this is the time of year when peace and hope and love are extra close to our hearts. It’s also a time of year when we may feel a little frazzled, anxious, and overextended. Normal life and the concerns of the world don’t stop to make room for holiday traditions and joyous celebrations. Headline news, end-of-the-year deadlines, frayed nerves and a jam-packed calendar make Ahimsa a potentially delicate principle to practice this time of year.
How can we bring more love and less suffering to the holidays?
How can we carry the spirit of the season into the new year and beyond?
First, let’s remind ourselves that yoga philosophy is not so much a set of steps to follow, but a guide for living a joyful life. Though we may seek to master the eight limbs of yoga, it’s the daily practice of living a conscious and connected life, the ever deepening our of understanding and expression of its values, that bring us great meaning and purpose in this lifetime. The holidays are a wonderful time to recommit to yogic values.
Ahimsa is the first of the five Yamas. It means nonviolence, and it instructs us to do no harm to any living being. Living the principle of Ahimsa is meant to the the basis for all of our decisions, choices, and actions. It is more than “to not kill.” Ahimsa extends to our thoughts, words, and deeds to others - and to ourselves. If what we think, say to do brings pain or suffering, we have violated this principle of Ahimsa.
Our world is filled with so much violence and suffering, sometimes the possibility of attaining Ahimsa seems out of reach. Looking at all suffering, all pain, all people, all beings - it’s too big to change. What could one person do but feel despair and hopelessness?
Could there be another way to understand, know, and live the principle of Ahimsa?
Another way to understand Ahimsa is to take responsibility for ourselves. We are accountable for our thoughts, words, and actions. We cannot change others, but we can manage ourselves. We can change ourselves. We can look honestly at our lives to notice what is out of alignment with Ahimsa, and we can mindfully behave in ways that do not create suffering.
Practice this understanding by noticing if you are out of alignment with Ahimsa. Decide how you will take responsibility for your actions, and how you will move toward a greater expression of nonviolence in the way you think, speak, and act. At holiday gatherings, while shopping, when stuck in holiday traffic - take responsibility for yourself embody love.
Another way to know Ahimsa is to participate in community. One person’s actions, thoughts, and intentions my seem insignificant, but we are not acting alone. As a yoga community, we practice together as like-minded people who want to support each other's growth and well-being. Our combined efforts in living Ahimsa amplify its effect and motivate us all to pursue our dharma.
Practice this knowledge by mindfully choosing how you spend your time during the holiday season (and always). Say yes to the parties, events, and traditions that bring you close to those who share your values and encourage you to be your best self.
Another way to live Ahimsa is to act in accordance with the principle of nonviolence. Essentially, to live Ahimsa means to love. When we cultivate loving thoughts, when we speak with compassion and friendliness, when we act with care and generosity, we exemplify Ahimsa. In this way, we radiate respect and care and generosity. In this way we may help to open the hearts of others to also act in love and not in violence.
Practice Ahimsa by giving the gift of love to all. Open your heart to all beings, and spread your love freely, without reservation, without fear. Know that the source of love is infinite. Know that the gift of love creates ripples that will reach farther than you may ever know.
“See yourself in others. Then whom can you hurt? What harm can you do?”
Holiday gatherings are colorful and vibrant and full of emotion. It’s true that even with our best intentions, the holidays can bring moments that are difficult to maneuver. Our best intention and most thoughtful practice may still fall short in the face of certain relationships, memories, or expectations. When we remember that we are all one, we may be able to access a deeper place where Ahimsa is abundant.
With this, I offer you a blessing: May you see yourself in every being. May you choose to live Ahimsa in honor of our sacred oneness. Do no harm. Always.
Happy Holidays to you and all you love, respect, and cherish.
Kirstin Pinit is Santosha’s writer-in-residence. She is an artist, a student of yoga, Ayurveda, and massage therapy, and she is a Yoga Health Coach. Kirstin practices and teaches the habits of yogis - dinacharya. This is the Ayurvedic practice of daily habits that are essential for leading a vibrant, healthy, creative life. Find out about her upcoming courses and collaborations at kirstinpinit.com