Ahimsa or non-violence is the first ethical practice (Yama) of the Yoga Sutras.
This is a practice whereby we try not to hurt anyone. This is something that we all try to do the best that we can. But the practice of ahimsa also involves not harming ourselves. Something that we do frighteningly often (how many times do we drink too much, not sleep enough, do we overwork, insult or berate ourselves…..?).
In a yoga class, what ahimsa means amongst other things, is not to push ourselves beyond our limits to exhaustion or injury. This differentiates yoga from many sports or indeed our prevalent culture where we often try to go further, to improve ourselves, and where there is the common saying we too often take to heart "no pain, no gain”.
Ahimsa also means to respect our body and not to judge or criticize ourselves (and others) harshly; it is a practice in loving ourselves unconditionally and with compassion. Yoga tells us that we are perfect just as we are.
"You too, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection." Buddha
Learning to love unconditionally is not easy because it requires us to accept our faults and as well as our qualities. Learning to have compassion for ourselves enables us to hold ourselves in a soft embrace in our times of pain (and happiness) as well as gently urging ourselves to try to do what is best for us, to respect ourselves and act for our greater good.
Loving ourselves unconditionally is not selfish or narcissistic. For it is only when we love ourselves unconditionally that we can truly love another.