In yogic philosophy, the Yamas and Niyamas are guidelines for living a more serene and fulfilled life. The Yamas are a list of personal restraints. Their complement, the Niyamas, are a list of observances. Basically, the Yamas are a list of things not to do and the Niyamas are a list of things to do.
Both the Yamas and Niyamas have generally obvious applications. Do not steal, lie, or covet are obvious (but still essential and important) interpretations. However, there are also more subtle readings that some may find enriching. There exist as many interpretations of the Yamas and Niyamas as there are practitioners. Below are some additional interpretations of only the Yamas. As with any ideas, take what works for you and leave what does not.
Indiscriminate Compassion (Ahimsa)
Ahmisa refers to nonviolence beyond strictly physical violence. We can harm others with our words or actions, causing emotional or mental anguish. Additionally, we can maltreat ourselves with our own thoughts. The practice of Ahimsa does not differentiate between hurting another and hurting oneself. Especially when we find ourselves with an excess of free time, we can ruminate on our perceived past mistakes or agonize about a future that may never arrive. We can judge ourselves harshly; usually much harsher than we would judge a dear friend. Neither of these of these thought patterns change the past or potential future. The best we can do is to empathize with ourselves as we would a friend.
Compassion is Ahimsa in practice. In difficult times, we may see people acting in their own self interest, without regard to others' well being. While it is simple to place judgment on someone acting selfishly, perhaps it is more beneficial for ourselves to view them through a lens of compassion. Conceivably, uncertain and stressful events will frighten people. Those people may react with their natural human instinct of self preservation – an instinct to which we can all relate. Another possibility is that they are not frightened but are attempting to profit from a difficult situation. In that case, challenging as it may be, we can still exercise compassion for those people. They too, are acting with self-preservation in mind. We do not have to condone their actions but becoming angry and lashing out with our frustrations only serves to disrupt our own inner peace. We cannot change the actions of others but we can change our reactions to our surroundings. A final observation is that everyone is always doing their best within the confines of their current knowledge. Enlightenment and personal growth involves expanding and removing those confines.