What is Ahimsa? Ahimsa is a Sanskrit term which means, non-harming or non-violence. It is one of the five yamas which are the social/moral guidelines that make up the first of the 8 limbs of yoga.
It is a reminder of how we should treat other beings on the planet. We shouldn't harm others, animals, or ourselves.
Understanding not to physically hurt others may be the most obvious interpretation of this yama. We shouldn't go around injuring or killing others as we live our lives. Pretty self explanatory.
Not hurting others mentally and emotionally is also part of ahimsa. We can cause hurt to others through our words, thoughts and deeds. Remembering to think before we act or pass judgements is all part of practising ahimsa.
Non-violence towards the self is often overlooked. People assume that because they do not physically cause harm to themselves that they are implementing this yama. We often forget the constant voice in our own heads which berates, judges and belittles our abilities, appearance or our choices. A gentle reminder to be aware of this can help to change your outlook and put more positive energy into our lives and the lives of others. Our internal worlds have a huge impact on our external worlds.
Being vegetarian or vegan is often brought up in a discussion about ahimsa. Do you need to be a vegetarian to be a true yogi? This is a very personal choice but the yoga sutras do not specify this. In fact, Patanjali points out that it is quite difficult for most yogis to practise all 5 yamas without interruption and that they must be adapted to the individuals (Sutra II.31). For example, some people would cause more harm to themselves if they did not eat meat as they may not achieve adequate nutrients for their constitution. This is why it is always important to consider the circumstances of the individual.
Basically ahimsa wants you to think about how your words, thoughts and actions affect yourself and others. Be mindful, conscious and aware so that we can all share this planet in harmony and ultimately love one another.