For the next months we will explore the 5 yamas, or ethical practices, of classical yoga. For a general introduction, read more here.
The first and most fundamental yama is ahimsa, "to not kill or harm." Richard Freeman comments:
Perhaps a more accurate way to translate ahimsa is as "kindness" or "love," which could be considered the epitome of not harming; through yoga we cultivate the capacity to not harm others by offering kindness.
As we dive into yoga practice, we begin to notice that whenever we have placed another being outside of our heart -- when we have behaved without kindness -- we experience an underlying discontent, a deep sense of suffering that tends to color all of our experience, leaving us feeling guarded, overprotected, empty and unfulfilled. Therefore the initial practice of yoga is to place back into our heart that which really matters, which turns out to be all sentient beings, whether they are human or not -- animals, creatures, or even imaginary life-forms. When all are located in the core of the heart, we find that the rest of the yoga practices not only clearly make sense, but that they are deeply satisfying and also that they are actually quite easy to carry out. Conversely, when we have placed even one seemingly insignificant being outside of the heart, we find that no matter what we do, the yoga practice essentially does not work; we are agitated, distracted, unhappy, or unsatisfied... Ahimsa, therefore, is at the root of all relationships because as soon as we are able to reconcile our vision of others, thereby resolving our vision of what and who we actually are, then the yoga practices start to bear fruit and quite naturally manifest as happiness. (The Mirror of Yoga, pg 64-65)
There is an ongoing debate in the yoga world whether it is possible to practice ahimsa while eating meat. Grateful Yoga favors individiual discernment on this issue, and all others! For a taste of the discourse, check out this article by Sadie Nardini.