What does this yama teach us and how do we translate this on and off our mats?
The yamas are essentially moral guidelines by which to live with regard to our relationship with ourselves, and the world around us. These moral codes can be applied both on an off the yoga mat, helping us to practise not just for the benefit of ourselves, but for the world around us….
Patanjali's yamas are:
- Ahimsa: Non Violence
- Satya: Truthfulness
- Asteya – ‘Non-stealing’
- Brahmacharya: Celibacy or ‘right use of energy’
Last but by no means least is Aparigraha, which often translates as ‘non-greed’, ‘non-possessiveness’, and ‘non-attachment’. The word ‘graha’ means to take, to seize, or to grab, ‘pari’ means ‘on all sides’, and the prefix ‘a’ negates the word itself - basically, it means ‘non’. This important yama teaches us to take only what we need, keep only what serves us in the moment, and to let go when the time is right.
Let your concern be with the action alone, and never with the fruits of action. Do not let the results of your action be your motive, and do not be attached to inaction - Krishna
It's not the destination, it's the journey....
Aparigraha is actually one of the central teachings in the Yogic text the Bhagavad Gita, in which Krishna shares one of the teachings that could perhaps be the most important lesson of all to learn: ‘Let your concern be with action alone, and never with the fruits of action. Do not let the results of action be your motive, and do not be attached to inaction’. What Krishna is essentially saying here, is that we should never concern ourselves with the outcome of a situation, we should only concern ourselves with what we’re actually doing right now as we work towards that outcome.
For example - how often do we worry about what might come of the effort we put into a project at work, a holiday we’re planning, or a meal we’re preparing, that we never really enjoy the work itself? So often we worry if we’ll be successful enough, or ‘good enough’ when we put our hearts on the line to show the world what we’re made of, that we forget why we started in the first place.
If you know you have something to do and share with the world, this teaching from the Bhagavad Gita tells us to do it – and to do it with all our hearts – and to let go of what might come of it. Great poets like Henry David Thoreu and Walt Whitman, painters like Camille Corot, and even composers like Beethoven couldn’t be sure of what would come of their work. Many were considered unworthy of recognition when they first showed the world their creations, but when they let go of the need to be praised by other people – when they let go of feeling as though their happiness was determined by what other people thought, and they just worked for the love of it – they allowed their passions to come alive, and lived fulfilled and abundant lives. When we understand and can fully comprehend how to live in this way, it’s a bit like taking a huge sigh of relief….
Here, we’ll discuss how we can all cultivate a little more ‘non-attachment’, ‘non-greed’ and ‘non possessiveness’ in our lives….
Aparigraha on the mat:
We may all walk into our Yoga class looking forward to practising, setting our intention and ready to move and breathe our way towards a more peaceful mind. Often halfway through though, something happens: We lose sight of the real reason we came, and our practice is no longer about connecting to ourselves and being present, but about being better than the person on the mat next to us, or pushing ourselves into that super impressive asana…. Sound familiar? This is where the ‘non-greed’ and ‘non-attachment’ aspects come into play.
If you have developed a home practice, then you’ll already experience the benefits of getting on the mat more often. The more we practise, of course, the stronger and more flexible we become physically, but it takes a little longer for our minds to catch up. While our bodies are more than happy with this daily dose of asana practice, the mind is all too often distracted with thoughts about how we could be better, stronger, or how we could get into that fancy arm balance quicker. We never seem to be satisfied with just what is at that moment, the mind becomes greedy, and we want more. As I’ve said in a previous blog post about the Yamas & Niyamas - we live in a ‘McDonalds society’, we want everything, we want it now, and we want it super-sized.
Practise for the love of practising
Progress in our practice is encouraging, but it doesn’t need to be the only reward. The sheer joy of the practice is the greatest reward in itself, realising how freeing it is not to have a specific goal we must achieve, but to simply move our bodies in a way that feels good. If we practise for the love of practising, without forcing or pushing ourselves beyond our edge, the body will unfold naturally and those more challenging asanas will be accessible in no time.
Aparigraha at home:
How many clothes do you have in your cupboard that you know you won’t ever wear again, but they’re still hanging in there just in case? How many gadgets, ornaments, books and shoes do we have that we really just don’t need?
Aparigraha can teach us that we actually probably don’t need the new shirt that looks exactly like that other one we have at home, we probably don’t really need to buy that new cushion just because it goes with the new wallpaper, and we definitely don’t need that new car just because it’s better than our neighbours’….
The more we hoard material possessions, the more we weigh ourselves down with not only physical, but energetic baggage, and the more we become attached to and worry about losing these said possessions. Believing that the new object we buy will bring us happiness is based on a feeling of lack that all too often enters our minds. In this sense, ‘lack’ is that sense of ‘I’m not good enough’ or ‘I’m not whole without that new thing’, when really we always were and always will be good enough no matter what. If we lighten the load a little by either selling some of the things we don’t need, or even better by giving them to charity, then we move towards living a less cluttered life both in our homes and in our minds.
The next time you feel you need to buy something new, take a moment to think of why you need it so much - will it bring lasting happiness? Will it help you find peace? Will it help you live in a more self-reliant and simpler way? (Hint…. This is also a great way to save a lot of money!)
Aparigraha in diet:
Many texts advise eating moderately, so as not to disturb our practice, and the Hatha Yoga Pradipika in particular lists over-eating as a hindrance on the yogic path. That isn’t to say you shouldn’t enjoy your favourite meals and treats, and it’s so important to make sure each of us nourishes ourselves to stay healthy, but it’s useful to listen to our bodies to recognise when enough is enough. It has been well documented that the world’s ‘blue zones’ (the places in the world with the highest life expectancy, and the healthiest quality of life) eat until about 80% full, so as to allow the body to properly digest and assimilate food. Okinawa in Japan is one of these blue zones, and the phrase ‘Hara Hachi Bu’, meaning ‘eat until you are eight parts full’ originates here.
It’s not just how much we eat that is worth considering, but also how much we throw away!
30% - 50% of the food produced in the world ends up as waste, this is equivalent to up to 2 billion tonnes. With a growing global population of around 9 billion people, demands for food are growing, but still well over 8 million people in the world go hungry every day. The food currently wasted in Europe could feed around 200 million people, so why are we still being greedy, over-buying and wasting food?
While of course we can’t all travel to undernourished countries to help feed those going hungry, we can still do our bit to help. When we practise on our yoga mat and help ourselves to feel good and create a sense of peace and positivity, that’s only really the beginning of the practice…. What we do after that is where it all counts; by creating a sense of peace within ourselves, we essentially make our selves more useful in the world. When our minds are less cluttered with worries and attachment, we can get on to the important stuff, like really making a difference in the world around us.
Start small; this could mean sticking to your shopping list next time you’re at the supermarket and not putting those extra indulgent treats into the trolley. It could mean cooking a big meal to share with friends, to make sure nothing goes to waste, or it could mean saving any leftovers for lunch or dinner the next day. Maybe this could lead on to donating tins of food to those in need, or even volunteering to help feed those at a local shelter. Remember, our practice is to help ourselves feel good, but it doesn’t stop there…
Aparigraha in our minds:
Hindsight is a wonderful – and annoyingly useful – thing. If only we knew that those things we obsessively worry over didn’t really matter? If only we could stop being concerned with what might happen, and just enjoy what is happening?
Each time we enter into a new relationship, experience a sensation of joy and happiness, or start a new project, there’s often a flash of concern as we think – even just for a moment – what happens when this is over? What will come of this?
Becoming attached to a positive feeling or a positive experience is completely human, why wouldn’t we want to feel happy for as long as we can? But when we experience positivity, do we really let ourselves fully have that experience, or do we cling to it, willing everything to stay just as it is in that moment?
Change is the only constant thing we can expect in life
The Sanskrit word ‘Parinamavada’ is the teaching that ‘everything is in a constant state of flux’. Indeed, change is the only constant thing we can expect in life. Just as the trees drop their leaves in Autumn so that they may grow new buds in Spring, the day turns to night, the seasons come and go, we too go through changes every moment of every day. Our physical bodies are undergoing change every second with cells regenerating, blood flowing, bone wearing down and then being stimulated to build up again, breath moving in and out of the body; so too do our minds experience change continuously.
Happiness, joy and peace are important emotions to feel, yes, but so too is sadness, anger and loss. To experience only the good stuff is to experience only half of what life has to offer. The school of life exists to allow us to experience and learn from every aspect of our being, the light and the dark, and to truly live we must not push away the things we don’t want to feel, but allow them to happen, and know that this too shall pass. When we let the moment be what it is without either trying to cling to it, or to push it away, we can really say we’re living in that moment, allowing things to come and go, without the need to possess any of it.
Aparigraha offers us so much freedom - the freedom to work and do what we love without worrying about the outcome, the freedom to rely less on external and material possessions to bring us happiness, and the freedom to experience everything life has to offer, whatever that may be. See what happens when you apply this yama to your life, what happens when you just let go?
Explore Patanjali's Yamas in The Eight Limbs of Yoga programme
If you'd like to explore the Yamas in practice, you can follow our yoga programme 'The Eight Limbs of Yoga'. With informative talks, yoga, Pranayama and meditation, go deeper and truly enrich your yoga practice and hopefully, your life.