Ahimsa, the first of the five Yamas, teaches us non violence, to not cause harm to any creature, in thought, in the way we communicate and in action. To treat the world around us, the planet and each other with love. Putting Ahimsa into action also means treating ourselves with kindness and respect in the way we speak to ourselves, treat ourselves and allow others to make us feel.
“Ahimsa is not mere negative non-injury or non violence. It is positive, cosmic love. It is the development of a mental attitude in which hatred is replaced by love. Ahimsa is true sacrifice. Ahimsa is forgiveness. Ahimsa is Sakti (power). Ahimsa is true strength.” ~ Swami Sivananda
Satya, the second Yama, guides us to think, speak, and act with honesty and with authenticity. The word sat means “that which exists, that which is” so Satya can be understood as living and speaking with integrity. Satya does not mean simply telling the truth when it might be easier to make up a little white lie, it is far more complex than that and encourages us to treat our minds, bodies and spiritual selves holistically.
From my personal understanding of the Yoga Sutras, Ahimsa encourages us to act with compassion and love towards ourselves and others whilst Satya means existing in a way that is respectful of our authentic selves.
I spent a lot of my childhood, adolescence & adult life crippled with anxiety about upsetting or disappointing anybody. I would often bend the truth to avoid upsetting people & lie to evade any kind of conflict. When I began my 200 hour Teacher Training I genuinely found it hard to speak a lot of the time and on some days I even lost my voice. A few years later on my first yoga retreat, I was in floods of tears in any postures that opened the throat. My teacher told me that my throat chakra was clearly blocked (Vishuddha Chakra) and asked if I found it hard to express myself truthfully.
I was an outgoing, confident person on the outside but internally I felt in constant turmoil and I had a deeply critical inner voice. It was as though that part of me needed to be broken open, I needed to learn how to speak from a place of authenticity and voice my needs, I needed to put boundaries in place rather than constantly people pleasing and I needed to ask for help with my mental health. I desperately needed to put Ahimsa and Satya into practice!
When I was young I loved nothing more than to paint. I spent hours outside, in my bedroom or in the art department at school creating art, installations and political sculptures. I didn’t care what anyone else thought, I was living in flow with what I loved and I never questioned if I should paint or and create, I just expressed what I felt without fear of judgement. At Art college I was advised to study Fashion Design instead of following my dream of studying fine art because there were more career prospects. To cut a long story short, I took the safe route towards financial stability in the ‘real world’….
Fast forward to 10 years later and I was signed off from my stressful job in Fashion with malignant hypertension and diagnosed with GAD (generalised anxiety disorder) & PTSD in 2017. Can you guess what my therapist suggested I try? Art Therapy. Talk about a lesson coming full circle!
When I was first diagnosed I barely told anyone because I felt a lot of shame and stigma about being mentally unwell. I felt like everyone was doing laps around me whilst I was struggling to just about stay afloat. I always remember during my training my teacher asked a simple question ‘Who are you when no one else is watching?’ This question clung to me like a limpet and kept me up at night because when no one else was watching my Anxiety took over, it berated me and wore me down. I was being so hard on myself, so unkind and so critical. I knew something needed to change.
The point of telling you this story is to demonstrate that if we ignore ourselves, if we put ourselves last, if we push down the parts of us that make us unique, that make us tick, that make us feel alive, we’re ignoring the elements of us that need to be seen and heard. We’re not treating ourselves with kindness or love – we’re treating ourselves like the enemy.
Over time, as my yoga teaching and practice grew stronger so did my voice and compassion. I started talking about mental health and anxiety in my classes and on social media. I saw a therapist for 9 months and also trained as a Yoga Therapist for Anxiety. When I started to open up about how I felt and what I was experiencing more and more people joined the conversation and shared their experiences. I certainly wasn’t the only person struggling with Anxiety or the only yoga teacher for that matter!
Often we expect people who teach yoga and practise yoga to be calm and zen and whilst there are of course those people, it’s important to remember that so many people come to yoga because it helps them not only manage their holistic health but transform the relationship with their body, their mind and their spiritual selves.
I’m still learning about my relationship with my Anxiety and how to put the sutras into action, it’s all a practice but I have learnt a few things along the way…
My Anxiety softens when I:
- Speak kindly to myself
- Put boundaries in place
- Start the day with movement
- Spend time in nature
- Spend time with people I love
- Hang out with my dog
- Express my needs
- Disconnect from technology
- Practice Gratitude
- Do Yoga
My Anxiety spirals when I:
- Stay up late unnecessarily
- Speak to myself harshly
- Say yes when I mean no
- Put myself last
- Over stretch my boundaries
- Over schedule myself
- Commit to way too much
- Allow myself to ruminate on something I’ve said or someone else has said
- Worry about the future to an unhealthy extend
The teaching of Ahimsa & Satya and the Yoga Sutras really opened my eyes to how important it is to be honest about what you need and the dangers of wearing a mask.
“The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths. These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity and an understanding of life that fills them with compassions, gentleness, and a deep loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen.” ~ Elizabeth Kubler-Ross
I’m now a proud advocate for Mental Health Awareness & fighting the stigma that still exists around mental illness. You can find my writing & commentary for MoreYoga in Stylist, Time Out, The Times, Women’s Health, The Telegraph, Huffpost and more.
Anxiety is an increasingly common mental health disorder that can manifest in various forms, such as generalised anxiety disorder (GAD), panic disorder, social anxiety disorder, and specific phobias. It usually involves excessive worry, racing thoughts, restlessness, irritability, and physical symptoms like heightened heart rate, muscle tension, and shortness of breath. Anxiety can significantly impact our quality of life, relationships, and overall well-being.
About Liz Joy Hardie
Liz is Head of Wellness at MoreYoga, a trained Holistic Wellbeing Coach and Senior Yoga Teacher specialising in Yoga Therapy for Stress & Anxiety. Liz came to teach Yoga after being signed off from work with a blood pressure condition brought on by stress & generalised anxiety disorder. She is an advocate for Mental Health Awareness and co-founded the MoreMind Programme to promote positive mental health and help fight the stigma that still exists around mental illness. Her writing and commentary has been featured in Stylist, Time Out, The Times, Women’s Health, The Telegraph, Huffpost and more.