The Yamas: Asteya – non-stealing

Asteya is the third Yama of Patanjali鈥檚 5 Yamas of the Yoga Sutras. Just like the other Yamas & Niyamas though, 鈥榥on-stealing鈥 means so much more than not physically taking something from someone else鈥.

Asteya non-stealing MacKenzie Miller Cobra pose

Asteya is mentioned throughout many Indian texts, including the Sutras, the Mahabarata (which the Bhagavad Gita is part of), the Upanishads and the Vedas. Gandhi also saw how important the practice of 鈥榥on-stealing鈥 was and considered it one of his ’11 Vows’, in which he expanded beyond the physical act of stealing 鈥 importantly 鈥 that 鈥榤ankind鈥檚 greed and craving for artificial needs are also stealing鈥.   

Swami Sivananda also focused on the fact that 鈥榙esire or want is the cause for stealing鈥. So, as we discover more about this Yama, it may be more helpful to look at why we might consider stealing in the first place, rather than refraining from stealing in itself. Much like in Indian medicine, we鈥檒l look at the root cause of suffering, rather than the Western approach of considering only a temporary cure鈥.

The root cause of Asteya

鈥淚鈥檓 not good enough鈥.鈥

The need to steal essentially arises because of a lack of faith in ourselves to be able to create what we need by ourselves. The moment we feel a sense of 鈥榣ack鈥 in life – desire, want and greed arises. We begin to look for something to fill that 鈥榚mpty鈥 sensation, and often feel as though everyone else has what we want.

The need to steal essentially arises because of a lack of faith in ourselves to be able to create what we need by ourselves
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Lack, insecurity, wanting, feeling 鈥榠ncomplete鈥 鈥. Essentially it all boils down to feeling like there鈥檚 something missing. The word yoga means 鈥榯o yoke鈥, 鈥榰nite鈥, 鈥榗onnect鈥, or essentially to become 鈥榳hole鈥, so by practising each aspect of yoga on and off the mat, we can move further towards feeling as though we already have enough, and we already are enough within ourselves.

Asteya on the yoga mat

Do you push yourself beyond healthy boundaries in your practice because you鈥檙e afraid of not being good enough? Even subconsciously, there鈥檚 usually a little part of us that starts out with the best of intentions, but then about half-way through class, begins to tempt us towards practising for the way a posture 鈥榮hould鈥 look, instead of how it feels. 

When we continually focus on pushing ourselves just a little too far over that 鈥榚dge鈥 in order to attain a posture, we not only rob ourselves of a sustainable and natural practice, but we rob ourselves of being able to be present with the posture and with ourselves for exactly the way things are in that moment.  

If we allow ourselves to be open and accepting to exactly how our practice is at that moment on the mat, we never need to feel as though we鈥檙e losing out if some asanas are a little out of reach at the moment. It is never the postures we are able to do that define our practice, but the amount of awareness we bring to them鈥. 

Stealing someone else鈥檚 peace in class

We all know those days when it just seems like we haven鈥檛 stopped, everything has been done in a rush, and then we鈥檙e late to our favourite yoga class. The moment you enter the room, you enter a sacred space, it may be the only place some people are able to find peace.

Rushing in with bags of shopping, throwing the mat down and kicking off our shoes may be the fastest way of getting into class, but when we disturb the peace upon entering the room, we really do steal anyone else鈥檚 chance of fully focusing on their breath鈥. Which is probably a little quieter than yours if you鈥檝e just rushed to class after a day鈥檚 work!

Asteya off the mat

Hoarding鈥. 

Personally, I鈥檓 a hoarder 鈥 I have accumulated way too many clothes and books over the years, some of which may go unused forever鈥. Does this sound familiar?

When we buy more than we need, we鈥檙e often subconsciously looking to 鈥榝ill a gap鈥 that we feel is missing in life. Material possessions obviously can鈥檛 replace whatever it is our soul really needs, but time and time again we temporarily satisfy ourselves by buying yet more 鈥榮tuff鈥 we don鈥檛 need. Remember Gandhi鈥檚 words; 鈥榤ankind鈥檚 greed and craving for artificial needs is also stealing鈥; it is these artificial needs which create the piles of stuff around us. And yet the more material things we have around us, often the more material things we feel we need.  

As Sivananda said 鈥榙esire and want鈥, is what causes us to go out of our way to obtain something. Often, the things we buy and don鈥檛 need could be appreciated by someone else, but by needlessly taking them for ourselves, we rob others of the chance to have what they do need. 

Take a look at the number of possessions you own 鈥 could someone else better benefit from them? Do you really need 23 pairs of shoes and eight bags? Does your weekly grocery bill include items you often throw away without eating?

When we begin to let go of what we don鈥檛 need, we make space for the universe to provide us with what we do need 鈥 be it a physical possession, an experience, or simply a sense of wellbeing. 

Do not rob yourself of experiencing life as it is

kIn each moment, we have the opportunity to experience a vast array of emotions and sensations 鈥 yet we tend to cling only to those which seem pleasant and enjoyable. This aspect of clinging a little too tightly to pleasurable experiences is known as 鈥榬aga鈥, and although the experience itself may be one of joy or happiness, the action of trying to hold onto it out of desire ultimately creates more suffering or 鈥dukkha鈥.

The opposite of this is 鈥榙vesa鈥, which translates as 鈥榓version鈥, often to pain or suffering 鈥 basically that feeling we get when we try really hard not to feel a painful physical or emotional feeling when it arises. Continually running around in circles after experiences which bring us only pleasure keeps us locked in a cycle of wanting and desiring, which 鈥 if we think about it 鈥 never really ends鈥.

Even when we feel content, there鈥檚 always that small part of us that worries about what might happen if we lose this feeling / person / possession / experience. By attempting to feel only the 鈥榞ood鈥, we ignore the other half of life completely.

By going into the dark places we fear of treading the most, the lighter experiences shine even brighter, and we鈥檙e made whole by allowing ourselves to experience every emotion there is to offer. There doesn鈥檛 have to be 鈥榞ood鈥 and 鈥榖ad鈥 in every situation, there simply just 鈥榠s鈥, and if we allow ourselves to step into the parts we fear a little, we give ourselves the opportunity to fully experience life in that very moment. 

Exercise: Practise abundance

鈥楢bundance鈥 means to have a large amount of something 鈥 so much so that there is no need for anything else. Practising knowing that we have enough, and we are enough, is the key to wanting and desiring less, and therefore feeling a lot more whole and happy within ourselves.

Whenever those feelings of lack, want or desire arise, practise using the mantra 鈥業 am enough鈥 and see how it affects your life. 

For further reading on the Yamas: 

  • Ahimsa鈥 鈥楴on-violence鈥
  • Satya鈥 鈥楾ruthfulness鈥
  • Brahmacharya鈥 鈥楻ight use of energy鈥櫬(sometimes referred to as celibacy, but don鈥檛 let that put you off!)
  • Aparigraha鈥 鈥楴on-attachment鈥

EkhartYoga members: Explore Patanjali’s Yamas and the other limbs in our guided online program…

Esther Ekhart in the 8 limbs of yoga

If you’d like to explore the Yamas in practice, you can follow our program ‘The Eight Limbs of Yoga‘.聽In this 8 week programme our aim is to聽help you achieve a good grasp of each limb through informative talks, yoga, Pranayama and meditation. Go deeper and truly enrich your yoga practice and hopefully, your life.聽

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Emma Newlyn
Emma NewlynEmma is a 500hr registered yoga teacher, writer and holistic therapist based in Sussex, UK. With a passion for yoga philosophy and Ayurveda, she loves bringing these ancient methods to the modern world in an accessible and easy-to-implement way through her writing and courses. Emma leads the Yoga, Ayurveda & Holistic Health course based in the UK, giving students tools and techniques to enhance their health and wellbeing, and to help others do the same. www.emmanewlynyoga.com