If you are new to my 5-Part Yamas Series: I invite you to start with Part 1 which began with the practice of ahimsā, non-harming. In this series we explore each of the 5 practices within the yamas, which is the 1st Limb of the 8 Limbs of Yoga outlined in the Yoga Sūtra. The yamas provide ethical practices that are fundamental to the yoga practice. For each yama I provide a more detailed explanation of its intent and varying ways to practice it in your daily lives.
Now on to Part 3 – Asetya, Not Stealing
Asteya is the principle of not stealing. Like the other yamas, Patañjali (the author of the Yoga Sūtra) encouraged asteya to be practiced both on the literal level as well as on a more subtle level. Stealing from others is unethical and a punishable crime, so just don’t do it. However, there are several ways that we steal from others, ourselves and our planet. These more subtle ways of stealing are what I’d like to explore. I feel that this is where we may experience some challenges that are worthy of looking at to better understand its affect and how we can be more mindful.
In what ways do we steal?
We steal from others - Stealing from others happens when we take something that isn’t freely given to us. At times we may not even realize our actions are a form of stealing and other times we may feel a sense of entitlement or greed. Acts of stealing can be as simple taking a magazine from your doctor’s office without asking because you just wanted to finish reading an article. Or it can be a little more harmful such as when you take advantage of someone else’s kindness. Even when we show up late for a meeting, we are stealing time from the other person. The practice of asteya is asking us to be a little more mindful with our actions.
We steal from ourselves - Stealing from ourselves tends to show up when we find ourselves out of balance. When we “burn the candle at both ends” and don’t take care of ourselves. So many times I hear people say they are stressed out from work, school, life (whatever), but they don’t spend the time to take care of themselves and do what they know will benefit them. This is stealing from our physical and mental health and the quality of our lives in general. Another common way we steal from ourselves is when we doubt our self-worth and don’t feel that we are enough. But we ARE enough!
We steal from the earth - Each time we use the Earth’s precious resources we are stealing from her. So when we take more than what we need we are stealing. Yes, the Earth is here for us to live and it produces resources for us to consume. But we have taken it way too far. We are professional consumers! We live in a culture that is centered on consumerism and accumulating more, more, more. We are constantly encouraged---no, we are actually expected to consume and are looked down upon if we don’t. We are out of balance causing our Planet to be out of balance too.
Why do we steal?
Asteya comes from the feeling of lack versus abundance. We feel that we don’t have enough things, time, money or we feel that we simply aren’t good enough. There is a constant void we are trying to fill. And, as I mentioned above, our society tells us that we aren’t good enough and that we need these things to be happy. But we know all too well, money, status, things can’t buy happiness. So, how do we stop the madness!?! How can we feel that we are enough?
Ways to Practice Asteya
In Michael Stone’s book Yoga for a World Out of Balance he suggested 3 ways to counteract the act of stealing: thru generosity, letting go and contentment. These practices help us release the feelings of lack and not enough-ness. Following Michael’s guidance, here are specific actions you can try:
The first step is to be mindful of your thoughts before acting. Take inventory on the why: Why do you need to buy that new pair of jeans even though you already have 5 pairs? Why do you feel it’s no big deal if you are late (again) to dinner with your friend? Why are you going out on a date with a man you don’t really want a relationship with? It may be because you are feeling you are lacking something: the need to look good, the need to feel busy and/or important.
The next steps are to practice generosity, letting go and contentment:
Be Generous - Shifting your focus from yourself to others is a great way to calm the feelings of lacking. To give or do for others also just feels good. So call a friend to let them know you are thinking of them. Or volunteer for one of your favorite causes. Or buy that pair of jeans for someone else who doesn’t have a much as you. Think of ways you can be generous to others and then do it!
Let Go - This isn’t as simple as it sounds. Letting go of attachment to a thing, action or person is a big deal, but can be so freeing. It opens up space for new and better things to come to you. The process I take to let go is to meditate with an intention to let go and surrender my feelings over to a higher power. I always feel a sense of relief and lightness.
Be Content - When you are feeling that you are not enough or something is missing, there is a void you are trying to fill. Instead of focusing on what you don’t have, focus on all the good things that are in your life. What’s really special about this practice is that once you start focusing on the positive things in your life more good things come your way!