The first limb of the 8-limbed Ashtanga Yoga vehicle is called Yama. Yama is often translated as restraints. It also has a mythological connotation as Lord Yama who is none other than the presiding deity of death. What is being referred to hear is not death in the morbid sense that you might find in a B-grade horror flick or a sterile tucked away semitary. Yama in this context is referring to the death of separate existence, the death of ego.
While the five-tenants of Yama practice have very practical applications, and are intended to harmonize our social lives, their ultimate intention is to transform us, to move us from a contracted identity into union with Spirit.
The first of these five-tenants is called ahimsa or non-harming. Often it is translated as nonviolence, though I consider this to be a limited translation because of gratuitous connotations that often go along with the word violence. Culturally we tend to think of violence just in physical terms; the most recent car bombing on the evening news or even reruns of Tom and Jerry, all of these are overt examples of violence.
The practice of ahimsa is much more subtle. It is intended to be practiced on every level; physically, verbally and mentally. From this perspective, passive aggressive behavior, setting someone up to fail or holding a grudge are all considered forms of violence.
As one begins to consciously take on the practice of non-harming one of the first realizations is how much violence plays a roll in one’s day to day life. It gets reflected in one’s diet, relationships and image of oneself to name just a few breading grounds of aggression.
At the center of violence stands a sense of separation, a feeling of isolation from the object of disdain, weather it be another person or oneself. The more our identity contracts the more resentment builds up. Yoga is the reverse of this process, it promises and requires an expansion of our identity.
The potential for this expansion is boundless. The practice of ahimsa offers a kind of road sign to tell us when we’ve veered off into the ditch of pain and delusion. Progress is measured one choice or action at a time. Gradually the practitioner begins to disidentify with thoughts of harm and offers their contracted ego up to Yama, the Lord of Death, the death of the separate self.