In looking at the Yamas, or personal restraints, discussed in the Yoga Sutras, it may seem as though there’s a bit of repetition: Aparigraha (non-grasping or non-possessiveness) can seem to be merely a different hue of Asteya (non-stealing–the subject of our April blog!) And certainly–like so many philosophical concepts–there are many connections to be made between the two. But to understand their connection, it is also important to distinguish them, and to understand each of these concepts for their own value.
And the concept of Aparigraha is deeply valuable, for lots of reasons!
As I reflect on what Aparigraha is–as both a concept and an experience–my understandings seem to keep circling back to notions of both autonomy and acceptance. Non-possessiveness requires me to understand that the world, and other people in it, do not exist merely to give me what I want. In acknowledging and even inviting other people’s autonomy, I am invited to consider the extent of my control in a given situation. You can’t always get what you want, as the song goes. Thankfully, the story doesn’t end there.
In accepting the reality that what I want won’t always match up with what the world will give, I have to wrestle with non-attachment. This is the foundation of Aparigraha! And in that wrestling-with-it process, I have a choice: I can look at non-grasping as an experience of acquiescence–which might feel like losing, or giving up. Alternatively, I might be able to see where non-grasping or non-possessiveness become a form of freedom. By letting go of a single expected outcome, other things become possible–and at times may prove to be far better than what I’d hoped for in the first place!
Yoga practice can be a great place to explore loosening the grip of expectation, and to experience the beauty of allowing things to unfold as they need to. Possessiveness is usually about a need to control something or someone. In the context of yoga practice, this might look like a tendency toward perfectionism–needing poses to look a certain way, perhaps, so that we can be satisfied that we’ve “done it right.”
I’m not suggesting that there is no need to understand healthy form–we need to have a general idea of what is healthy and productive in a pose, and what isn’t. However, a rigid attachment to a precise physical expression is bound to leave us disappointed eventually. What happens when we’re injured, or sick, or merely tired? If we can’t get what we think we want, does our practice lose its value?
I sure hope not! In fact, I’ve found that the moments of not getting what I want are often the most instructive–these are the moments on the mat where creativity kicks in, where my sense of what is valuable gets expanded, and where I find the beauty in places I never would have expected it. A shoulder injury may lead to a whole new understanding of how to use my hands in down dog, or how my breath affects my physical experience. Discovering that I’m too exhausted for the fiery arm balances I had planned, may turn into an opportunity for the long, satisfying release of a yin practice that I’d been needing for weeks. In loosening my grip, my hands become open to receive other things. More becomes possible.
We hope your practice allows you some of these moments, where you get to experience the joy of just seeing what’s possible, outside of the confines of rigid expectation. We hope the curiosity and creative spark this can bring follows you off the mat into the rest of your life. And we look forward to sharing some of that with you as the summer unfolds!
Much love and thanks for reading,
Erin H/Indi Yoga