We went into yogic philosophy a bit this session, and one topic we discussed at length were Yama and Niyama--a kind of code of conduct as to how we should behave towards ourselves and others.
The first yama we studied was the concept of ahimsa--essentially non-violence. But while ahimsa tends to conflated mostly with non-violence towards animals (i.e., vegetarianism), that is really not what it means. Essentially ahimsa does not necessarily state that we should never eat meat or fish (although many Hindus, Buddists and Jains interpret it that way), it means that we should always behave with attention and consideration to others and ourselves.
In order to truly practice ahimsa I learned, you first had to practice non-violence towards one's self, and that meant paying respect to your body. You have to practice non-violence towards yourself in both your exercise, eating and other habits first, in order to extend ahimsa out to other beings. If you practice violence on yourself, you cause others to suffer.
That made sense to me.
I have a cousin now in the hospital because of anorexia. She's in her 40's and had been suffering from eating disorders since her teen years. Additionally, she's a chain smoker, has a drinking problem and at one time abused prescription drugs. My cousin has, without a doubt, been very violent to herself for practically her entire adult life.
Since she's been in the hospital, the doctors discovered a large tumor on my cousin's lung. They also have had to give her several blood transfusions because of an inordinately high white blood count. The outlook is bleak.
But what impact can my cousin's violence to herself have on others you ask? How does it impact me, particularly, since I don't really like this cousin and have had very little to do with her?
This cousin is my mother's sister's daughter. Needless to say, my cousin's condition is causing my Aunt a tremendous amount of suffering (not to mention all the suffering her various addictions and eating disorders have already caused my Aunt through the years).
So, you see, when we do violence to ourselves, like my cousin has, we cause pain and suffering in others. My cousin's violence to herself has radiated outward so that it effects my Aunt, my mother, me, her siblings and her children.
Now my cousin's situation is rather extreme. I'll admit that the repeated violence she has engaged in towards herself was somewhat out of the course of normalcy.
However, I do think that anyone who allows themself to get overweight to the point that they risk serious health conditions is not practicing ahimsa. I think that eating overly processed, unnatural foods and not getting any exercise is not practicing ahimsa as well.
We have to take care of ourselves, not just for us, but for those who love us as well. When we eat food that our not good for us, we are, in fact, doing violence towards ourselves, and that violence we do to ourselves will eventually radiate outward to cause suffering to those who love us.