As we move through the Yamas (self-regulating behaviors) discussed in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, April brings us to a new theme: the third of the Yamas, Asteya.
Typically translated as “non-stealing,” this precept may sound like it’s generally about not taking things—money, property, etc—from other people. And while this is generally a good rule to follow in life, it seems that merely refraining from taking material goods that belong to someone else is only the tip of the iceberg. And the concept of Asteya is, I think, a decent-sized iceberg!
Powerful Tools: Sufficiency and Gratitude
It’s interesting to investigate why an act of theft might happen in the first place. It seems reasonable to assume that stealing happens when someone needs or wants something, but doesn’t have the resources to procure it—so they take it from someone else. In certain cases, this may not even strike us as especially immoral. If you’re starving, the instinct to steal food for your own survival is easy for most people to understand.
I believe it’s on a subtler level that Asteya becomes meaningful in most of our lives. And it’s actually the thought processes that happen before any “stealing” occurs that matter most! When I feel covetous of something someone else has—be it a luxurious vacation, professional recognition, or a supportive circle of friends—it can bring about an opportunity to reflect on whether I feel something is missing from my own life. What’s causing me to feel insufficient? Is the thing I’m coveting likely to make me feel satisfied? What is it that I’m really yearning for?
By paying attention to our own needs and desires—and taking them seriously—we find an opportunity to offer compassion toward ourselves, and to get creative and clear about getting those needs met. There can be a lot of ways to approach this: some people make lists of things they feel grateful for, in order to re-orient themselves toward recognizing all the things they do have, rather than pining for what they don’t. Others create goals or plans that enable them to eventually get the things they want in their lives. Still others practice simply being present—whether in seated meditation, on a walk or in a yoga practice—and reminding themselves that they have everything they need in that moment.
How Yoga Helps
It’s a thing I love about yoga practice: the assumption that you are sufficient for the practice, in whatever state you happen to show up. The mat won’t tell you to come back later, after you’ve secured that job/car/boyfriend/perfect outfit. In fact, I’ve often felt like the small space I’ve carved out for my practice is a place that rejects all that “future-perfect” approaches to thinking. We can’t experience the movement of our breath and our bodies from some future point, no matter how excellent we might imagine it to be. If my yoga mat could talk, it would probably say, “I have seen you at your WORST, and then you hung out with me and you felt better. There’s been no policy change. Keep it simple, dork. Breathe in, breathe out. There’s not room for much else here.”
We hope your practice this month gives you ample opportunities to experience the rich sufficiency of your own body, heart and mind. We hope your yoga mat becomes your welcome mat, no matter how you’ve arrived at it. And we thank you for your generosity in sharing this practice with all of us here at Indi.
Much love and thanks for reading,
Erin H/Indi Yoga