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Ahimsa and Kids: Inspired by a spider

What does Ahimsa mean to kids?

This weeks' focus in all of my classes is Ahimsa. When I mentioned this in my Adults' classes, right away a few of the students talked about compassion, non-harm, self-care and being kind to others while remembering to treat ourselves with the same kindness. When I asked the kids what they had done recently to practice this, they all started talking about animals. One said she pet her dog right where the dog loves to be pet. Another said he says "I love you" to his dog. This filled my heart with joy! Who doesn't need to hear "I love you", including our animals?

A spider's inspiration for compassion and non-harm.

First, I have a confession to make. As an animal lover, tree hugger, yogi or call-it-what-you-will I usually am the lady picking up worms from the sidewalk and putting them back in the dirt or helping free lizards, bugs and animals in general that may be stuck, hurt or just need to be rescued. However, I am human and make mistakes. While normally I am fascinated by all creatures great and small, unfortunately I make mistakes. I picked this particular theme this week after a spider raced up to my foot this last week and I immediately panicked, doing the unthinkable. Please be kind. I feel terrible and while I definitely do not make a habit of this, I am racking my brain to find ways to honor this little spider and somehow make the world right again after this sad accident. So, I figured that a reminder about not harming any living being and living a life of compassion is the least that I can do until I come up with a better idea.

Ahimsa is Sanskrit for the avoidance of injury. This is one of 5 basic yoga principles from the original yoga sutras that provide moral guidelines for all. It is a daily challenge to each of us to refrain from causing any harm to another living creature whether verbal, mental or physical. My kids classes look at me with some confusion when I mention this is our theme. But when I talk about how it is basically speaking, acting and thinking in a way that treats all living beings (including themselves) with kindness and compassion they all jump in with different ways that they practice this on a daily basis. This of course led to questions about how to practice Ahimsa.

We started talking about acting in a way that is compassionate and kind to all living creatures even if nobody is actually watching. I used the example of a rainbow. When a storm ends and the rainbow comes out, it brings joy to anyone who witnesses it. The rainbow doesn't show up because it knows it's being watched. It's just a beautiful part of life that appears regardless of being watched or completely missed. This same idea takes place when we live in way that is kind and compassionate because that's just a part of making the world a better place, regardless of an audience or not.

Speaking kindly is a way of practicing compassion.

The kids came up with great ideas for treating others with kindness and respect such as telling a friend that they like their hair, smile or something else about them. We talked about self-talk and playing the game of "I am". They came up with words such as smart, funny, happy, pretty, talented, brave, strong and important. We talked about playing the "I AM" game with these positive words at least twice a day and at any time when any ugly words popped into our heads. They don't even have to say it out loud. These can be thoughts that they just keep in their heads as little reminders of how awesome they are.

One child told this beautiful story about a kid in their class who picked on her every day (stay with me here) but nobody played with this kid. One day, the child asked this kid to please stop picking on her because it hurt her feelings. This same child then quickly said, "If you want to be friends just come play with me. I'd love to play with you if you stop speaking this way to me." It worked! Those two are now friends who play together all of the time. The child being picked on could have retaliated by saying something mean back but instead chose an act of kindness for someone who needed it.

By the way, plants are living too! While talking to your mums might be a bit of a stretch, caring for plants is a wonderful way to treat them with kindness and give yourself some time to get away from the hustle of the world. Honestly, I don't think I ever met a person who talked to their plants that was unhappy, so why not? Plant therapy is a real thing and caring for yourself is a BIG part of this too. Over the years, I have heard many practitioners say "You can't take care of others if you don't take care of yourself." This is extremely true and something that is even harder for most caretakers to do when they are so concerned about caring for others. Allow others to help you. We all deserve it and our kids love helping out when it's a safe thing for them to do.

Another great game that we play in my classes with kids is the compliment game. Each kid looks at the person next to them and says one nice thing about them. They don't even have to know each other. It can be a compliment about another kids' shoes or bracelet or how they act. This is also an easy way to make new friends and get to know each other.

Elephants practicing compassion and kindness showing Ahimsa.

Don't forget the animals! Praise your animals. Just the reaction you will get from them is reward in itself. These creatures know more about us than we could ever know. They can sense our energy, feel how we are feeling, alert us to many things (including illness or if a person is safe or not) and just be there for us any time that we need them without any strings attached. I have always said that if you want to know what's going on, pay close attention to the animals in your life. They are such amazing beings and deserve our hugs, kisses, praise, warm blankets, cool air, delicious food, necessary medical treatments and being treated with complete compassion and kindness.

Finally, if you're just looking for a quick list on ways to practice Ahimsa in your life here are some ideas that we came up with. Some of these are for kids, some for adults and some are for both. There is so much more that could be said about this topic and we must work hard to remind ourselves frequently of its' importance. In the meantime, if you have any thoughts on how you practice Ahimsa or even how I can make up for the loss of a little spider please comment below:

1- Hold the door for someone.

2- Draw a picture for someone.

3- Light a candle, drink some tea and read a book.

4- Make cookies to share with a friend

5- Write a letter to someone you love and send it without telling them

6- Pick up a book for someone who dropped it

7- Tell your loved ones how important they are to you

8- Play with your kids and animals.

9- Read a book out loud to your kids/friends/family/pets/plants and even yourself!

10- Thank someone else. Thank yourself! Thank your body for all that it does for you every day.

11- Remember a person's name and use it next time that you see them.

12- Make a bird feeder and watch the birds.

13- Leave fresh water outside for the animals. Pour yourself a glass of fresh water!

14- Plant a pollinator garden for the butterflies, bees and other pollinators. Watch it grow.

15- Spend time with your animals and let them love on you.

16- Donate and/or volunteer.

17- Take a bubble bath.

18- Send a special coffee delivery to a friend at the office or their house

19- Take a nap.

20- Say Please, Thank You

21- Call someone you have not spoken to in a while.

22- Put all technology away and spend quality one-on-one time with your loved ones without staring at a screen.

23- Dance or sing with a loved one.

24- Make food with your loved ones.

25- Go for a walk with your animals and family.

26- Take pictures!

27- Paint with your kids/friends.

28- Watch the stars at night with your kids/friends/family/animals

29- Find seashells with your kids/friends/family/animals

30- Make something with someone that you love that you can treasure for years to come.

Namaste, kindness, compassion, non-harm, respect.

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