This is part 3 of a 10 part series that I'll be posting. Each post will be discussing one of the yamas or niyamas, which form the foundation of a yoga practice. To provide a little background: the path of yoga was described about 2000 years ago by Patanjali, in the Yoga Sutras- one of the most important texts on yoga. Here, Patanjali laid out the 8 limbed path of yoga. This means that there are 8 stages of yoga, starting with the simplest and moving to the most advanced. The 8th limb is Samadhi, which is enlightenment, aka when you become One with the universe. We can't just skip to limb number 8, however. We've gotta start with the basics. These days, we tend to jump right in at the third limb of yoga: asana (aka. the physical postures). Maybe we'll also dabble in the 4th limb, pranayama (conscious breathing, and control/ manipulation of breath). Unfortunately, we tend to skip right over the first two limbs: the Yamas, and the Niyamas. The Yamas are the 5 restraints; the things we should avoid, in order to be good yogis, and decent human beings. The Niyamas are the 5 observances; the qualities we should cultivate, in terms of how we treat ourselves. Each of the Yamas and Niyamas has important lessons to teach us, both on and off the mat. Here are my thoughts on each one.
Asteya doesn’t just refer to physical objects, though. We are also often guilty of stealing less tangible things from others, or ourselves. Things like time, energy, attention, and joy can also be subject to theft. If you’ve ever crossed paths with someone who insists on being the center of attention at all times, dominating conversations and interrupting others incessantly, you’ve been subjected to a type of theft.
If you’ve ever had an argument with a partner, or friend, and let your emotions get the best of you, you might find yourself waiting for your turn to talk, rather than truly listening to what the other person has to say. You may have ended up getting defensive, and shutting the other person down, rather than risk admitting the part you played in the conflict. I’m sure we’ve all been guilty of this more than once. When we act in such a way, we take away the other person’s right to be heard, and end up compounding the problem rather than working towards a resolution. This, too, is a way in which we can take something that doesn’t belong to us.
Collectively, humankind is certainly quite guilty of Asteya. We are constantly pilfering the resources of Mother Nature. We have deforested and fragmented immense amounts of natural environments, to the extent that many ecosystems are now collapsing. We have stolen the homes of our fellow beings, and sentenced individuals, populations, and entire species to death as a result. Somehow we have come to believe that the earth is “ours” to do with whatever we want- from fracking to draining every last drop of oil out of the earth, no matter the cost, to allowing corporations like Monsanto to poison (and patent) the planet. Mother Earth does not belong to us, we belong to her. We need to stop stealing from the planet, and start nurturing her instead.
Sometimes we even get greedy on our yoga mats and do some stealing. How can this be? Well, have you ever seen someone force themselves into a yoga pose that they clearly aren’t ready for? Sacrificing alignment, steady breath, and integrity in the pose in order to flail up into a headstand or contort themselves into a twist? When we do this, we are stealing those poses that we are not yet ready to incorporate into our practice. It’s not up to us to decide which poses we will do, it is up to our bodies, and the universe. As tempting as some asanas can be (and I say this as a self-professed pincha mayurasana addict), all we can do is show up on our mats, dedicate ourselves to the practice, and work up to our own intelligent edge, wherever that may be. Challenging ourselves, but respecting the limits of our bodies, and realizing that those limits are constantly changing anyway. We’ve gotta keep reminding ourselves that the point of yoga asana is not really about doing the postures. It’s about practicing patience and compassion and self-awareness and dedication, not so we can do the fancy poses, but so that we can continue to cultivate those very qualities. The poses themselves are just a bonus.
Why do we do this anyway? Why do we take things that aren’t ours, whether they’re asanas, objects, emotions, or resources? I think it must be because we think that we don’t already have enough. If we force our way into the poses, maybe it’s because we think we aren’t good enough yogis if we can’t yet do them. If we hog all the attention in a group of friends it might be that we’re afraid we aren’t impressive enough if we don’t. When we demand to dominate our planet perhaps we fear that the earth won’t provide us with enough otherwise…
So, what we need to do, is to focus on all the abundance in our lives.
We need to send our attention and awareness to all the things we have, instead of worrying about what we don’t have. We need to remember all the poses we can do, and how amazing our living, breathing, moving, seeing, feeling bodies are. We need to trust ourselves, each other, and Mother Earth. Once we realize how much we already have going for us, we will no longer need to steal.