Sharing the Yamas and Niyamas with Children: Ahimsa Part 1

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Yama Flower

Yama Flower (Photo credit: Yureiko)

In this series, I will discuss sharing the Yamas and Niyamas with children. The Yamas and Niyamas are ethical principals that  are outlined in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. They can be applied within any spiritual, religious or secular practice since they deal with how to act peacefully within ourselves and with other people.

This first entry is an introduction to Ahimsa, in the way I am using it for this series and a list of ways that I share Ahimsa with children. Subsequent posts in this series will cover each Yama and Niyama, sharing them with children, and respond to any questions or suggestions in the comments.

I have written an overview of parenting with the all of the Yamas here and the Niyamas here. But, I have the pleasure of taking time in this series to discuss, in more detail, sharing each of the Yamas and Niyamas with children.  I hope you take some of these concepts with you as you parent mindfully.

Meet the Yamas and Niyamas

The Yamas and Niyamas are the core precepts that serve to hold up any mindfulness practice. They are concepts that are returned to over and over again as life changes and children develop.

The Yamas are sometimes defined as restraints or limits that can be used to harness the monkey mind in us all. They can be defined individually as: non-harming, truthfulness, non-stealing, continence, and self-assurance. The Niyamas follow the Yamas because they are mindfulness in action. They are: cleanliness, contentment, passion or spirit, study of self, and acknowledging of your inner self as everything. Think of them as reins (Yamas) and the horse (Niyamas) with your Self as the rider and your entire identity as the rider, reins, and horse together.

Although, the Yamas are ethical precepts, they are not for identifying whether you are being good or bad.  Rather, they highlight methods to avoid causing harm. For example, if you take something from someone else, it hurts them and also causes harm to yourself.

So, when I use the word restraint, it is as a pause to consider before acting. Each of the Yamas and Niyamas work to train the unconscious and conscious minds to work together for greater harmony between yourself and others.

The First Yama: Ahimsa, An Introduction to Non-Violence in thought, action, and speech.

This training to unify the mind is why the first of the Yamas is Ahimsa. Ahimsa can be defined as compassion for yourself, others, and the planet with your thoughts, speech, and actions. It is also explained as non-harming, non-injury, kindness or gentleness. It is a restraint because it involves controlling our thoughts and actions through introspection about what will hurt ourselves or others.

Ahimsa is also the first in the list of ethical precepts because it must be consulted before proceeding with any of the rest of the Yamas and Niyamas. For example another of the Yamas, Satya, asks that we tell the truth in all things. Yet, Ahimsa asks us to pause and consider whether speaking our truth will cause harm. Many times, it is compassionate to remain quiet instead of speaking truth.

One of the Niyamas, Svadhyaya, urges us toward continuous learning about the self. I certainly can’t practice this without the balance brought by Ahimsa. Sunday mornings, I would like to lock my door and dive into a long meditation, yet my kids need me to care for them. Sometimes, the answer is to meet the kids’ needs then meditate, sometimes I forgo meditating and dive right in with the kids, and sometimes I have much-appreciated help so that long meditation session happens. Considering Ahimsa first, I would decide which is the more compassionate choice for us all.

Ahimsa, for me, is the central concept around with the other Yamas and Niyamas revolve and thus, it’s the central concept around which I conduct parenting and personal choices. Non-violence holds up, balances, and connects the individuals in a family just as it does the Yamas and Niyamas. While some of the Yamas or Niyamas may be minimally used at different times, Ahimsa is always a part of any thought, action or speech.

While I believe people are inherently good, I think non-violence needs to be taught right from the beginning. Although I don’t think it’s ever too late to begin; it’s certainly easier if all you’ve known is compassion. Direct experience is the best teacher, but I also think it is important to explicitly name the concept of Ahimsa. Discussing examples and playing with the concepts of kindness for all in thought, speech, and action are key ways to share Ahimsa with children.

Coming up in the next part:

Four tracks for Ahimsa Practice

Four ways to explore non-violence with children:

  1. Inner work and outward modeling.
  2. Direct and indirect interactions.
  3. Media and Creative expression.
  4. Games and exercises.

I am writing this series by request. I hope it is useful to you. I welcome your input as I write this series and encourage you to respond with your own posts (feel free to link up in the comments below.) The beauty of writing a blog is that is it dynamic. As always, I am grateful that you read.

Do you think non-violence is something that needs to be taught or do you feel it comes naturally to children? I would enjoy hearing from you.

Other Posts You May Enjoy:

Post for NaBloPoMo
(Since I’m writing most of these late at night, in bed, while tandem nursing twins, I’m choosing to concentrate on writing rather than formatting, proof-reading, researching or editing as much as I’d like. Please forgive the extra typos and non-nonsensical grammar. Thank you.)

NaBloPoMo November 2013

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