The Yoga of Kindness: Practicing the First Yama

the yoga of kindness

Yogis, like all people who try to live well, practice the golden rule. In fact, the yoga of kindness is the very first step on Patanjali’s eight-limb path. Kindness, or ahimsa, is referred to as non-harming or nonviolence in the Yoga Sutras.

Practicing the Yoga of Kindness

I won’t spend time making a case for kindness. For most of us, its value is obvious. If we’re kind to others, we’re likely to experience kindness from others as well. The world will be a better place.

I remember one of my teachers reminding us that being adept yogis in body only has little value if we can’t open our hearts and allow love to flow through us.

In our asana practice, we can focus on kindness by doing poses and flows that open the heart and help us feel more connected. Practicing mindfulness is useful too. All this means is being conscious of kindness. We can notice the kindness of others and take a cue from their behavior. We can be kind on purpose, even for no reason.

Setting and intention to look for and follow kindness is a good way to practice ahimsa. I think it’s no accident that the yoga of kindness is the first piece of classical yoga philosophy.

The specific verse—sutra 2.35—is this:

When one is confirmed in non-violence, hostility ceases in his presence.

The fact that there are 85 verses before we get to the yoga of kindness suggests it takes time and effort to cultivate a confirmed attitude of kindness. It’s not always easy.

Start with Awareness

If you struggle with kindness (and we all do at times), start with the intention to be aware of kindness around you. Notice when people are kind to you. Then try to do the same. For example, let someone ahead of you in traffic. Thank your colleague for helping with a project. Offer to run an errand for a friend.

When we make kindness a habit, it becomes second nature. And we attract more kindness as well.

Meditation and The Yoga of Kindness

Besides postures that open the heart and cultivate kindness, you can practice a loving kindness meditation. Maybe you’ve done this in a yoga class or workshop.

Loving kindness meditation fosters connection in a simple way and is usually done in several rounds. Each round focuses on a different person or group.

For example, you can chant a mantra of peace for yourself, for a loved one, for someone in your life you may not get along with, for someone you cross paths with often but don’t know well, and finally, to the entire universe.

There are many verses that work well for practicing loving kindness meditation. One of my teachers closes each class with this one:

May all beings be free from suffering and the causes of suffering. May all beings have happiness and the causes of happiness.

You can replace all beings with I when you chant this for yourself, and with you (or he or she) when you chant it for another person. The final verse can be for all beings.

The more you purposefully tune in to kindness and look for it, the more you will experience it in your own life. The more you experience it, the more able you will be to extend it to others.

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Maria Kuzmiak

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