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Learning to cultivate respect and love for all beings is at the core of yoga. Every choice we make that leads to an action will either increase our connection to others or decrease it. It’s usually when we feel disconnected that we treat others in ways that lack compassion and respect. In the yoga tradition this principle of cultivating love and respect, both for others and ourselves, is called Ahimsa, which means non-harming or non-violence.

When we are in balance and at peace within ourselves, we don’t have to “try” to be kind to others.

Not harming others seems so simple, but when we start to unpack how to put that into action, we start to recognize the obstacles we face each day. Daily stresses often make us lose our balance and act out on others. We’ve all done it. We have lost our cool or lashed out at others. It never feels good when it happens. Even if we feel justified for a moment, or even a lifetime, somewhere deep inside we know that hurting another hurts us. We simply forget this when we feel disconnected from others and ourselves. The question when this happens is how do we find our way back to our peaceful nature?

Managing Stress= Kindness

When we are in balance and at peace within ourselves, we don’t have to “try” to be kind to others. When we are aligned with ourselves in a relaxed and open way, we begin to see that we are connected to all beings. This connection puts us smack in the middle of our own hearts. We feel our kinship to others and we act in a way that is respectful and compassionate.

This begins with managing our stress. When we do our daily stress management practices, we find ourselves feeling more peaceful and connected. We can feel the kindness pouring from our hearts and into the hearts of others. We may let others step in front of us in line, make space for other drivers on the road, or offer a listening ear to those around us who need to be heard, and the list goes on.

I have had students tell me they don’t recognize themselves anymore now that they have a daily yoga practice. They say they feel so much softer and kinder and aren’t even trying at it. In yoga, we use Ahimsa, the idea of non-harming, as a gauge of our own practices. We know that when we lose sight of our respect for others, we have drifted downstream and need to reconnect to our own hearts. We don’t have to force ourselves to be kind or respectful. It is a byproduct of our practice.

Mahatma Gandhi took his training from his own culture in India where Ahimsa has been practiced for centuries. Martin Luther King, followed in the footsteps of Gandhi. Most recently, the nonviolent campaigns of Leymah Gbowee and the women of Liberia have achieved peace after a 14-year civil war. This story is captured in a 2008 documentary film Pray the Devil Back to Hell. These humanitarians and their efforts to act with compassion can be models for us to live by everyday.

When someone finds it in his or her heart to say a kind word or to practice a kind gesture, they are aligning with Ahimsa. The practice takes us to our gentlest selves and helps us to refine our actions.

We can find the practice of Ahimsa in all of the elements of the Ornish Program. The gentleness of plant-based eating helps us to reverse disease as well as save the planet. The group support teaches us how to help and respect others. Stress management helps to make us feel more peaceful so in turn we can treat others in a peaceful way. The fitness prescription encourages moderation as a way to treat ourselves with respect and kindness. Ahimsa allows us to heal our own hearts and find a heartfelt connection to all beings.

How has managing your stress made you feel more peaceful or act with kindness?

Contributed by

Susi Amendola
Stress Management Specialist

What have you done to remind yourself of the things that have meaning for you?

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