There are said to be eight ‘limbs’ or guidelines in the practice of yoga. The first of these is the Yamas or restraints of which there are five.
These are the outer observances; the ethics and morals by which a yogi lives.
Of these, the first is Ahimsa. Ahimsa means non- killing or non-violence in thought, word or deed.
To be non-violent in our actions is easily understood. One following the path of Yoga avoids killing any living being. Perhaps more difficult to comprehend clearly but of equal importance is not to ‘kill’ with one’s speech. In other words, not to be overly critical of others; not to gossip or put anyone down. Non-violence in our thoughts takes more practice as we have to ‘break’ the conditioning of our lives. This idea of Ahimsa applies not only to others but also to oneself. One must not, through action or inaction, speech or thoughts denigrate any living being. Living this way we are said to ‘have a harmless mind, mouth and hand’. To be harmless does not suggest that one is powerless. It means exactly the opposite; to have the power, the restraint, to do no harm.
The practice of Ahimsa uplifts oneself and respects all.
(Mercy towards all living entities)