Asteya is the third Yama of Patanjali’s 5 Yamas of the Yoga Sutras. Just like the other Yamas & Niyamas though, ‘non-stealing’ means so much more than not physically taking something from someone else….
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 ‘non-stealing’ was and considered it one of his '11 Vows', in which he expanded beyond the physical act of stealing – importantly – that ‘mankind’s greed and craving for artificial needs are also stealing’.
Swami Sivananda also focused on the fact that ‘desire or want is the cause for stealing’. 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’ll look at the root cause of suffering, rather than the Western approach of considering only a temporary cure….
The root cause of Asteya
“I’m not good enough….”
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 ‘lack’ in life - desire, want and greed arises. We begin to look for something to fill that ‘empty’ 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
Lack, insecurity, wanting, feeling ‘incomplete’ …. Essentially it all boils down to feeling like there’s something missing. The word yoga means ‘to yoke’, ‘unite’, ‘connect’, or essentially to become ‘whole’, 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’re afraid of not being good enough? Even subconsciously, there’s 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 ‘should’ look, instead of how it feels.
When we continually focus on pushing ourselves just a little too far over that ‘edge’ 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’re 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….
Stealing someone else’s peace in class
We all know those days when it just seems like we haven’t stopped, everything has been done in a rush, and then we’re 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’s chance of fully focusing on their breath…. Which is probably a little quieter than yours if you’ve just rushed to class after a day’s work!
Asteya off the mat
Personally, I’m a hoarder – I have accumulated way too many clothes and books over the years, some of which may go unused forever…. Does this sound familiar?
When we buy more than we need, we’re often subconsciously looking to ‘fill a gap’ that we feel is missing in life. Material possessions obviously can’t replace whatever it is our soul really needs, but time and time again we temporarily satisfy ourselves by buying yet more ‘stuff’ we don’t need. Remember Gandhi’s words; ‘mankind’s greed and craving for artificial needs is also stealing’; 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 ‘desire and want’, is what causes us to go out of our way to obtain something. Often, the things we buy and don’t 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 – 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’t need, we make space for the universe to provide us with what we do need – be it a physical possession, an experience, or simply a sense of wellbeing.
Do not rob yourself of experiencing life as it is
In each moment, we have the opportunity to experience a vast array of emotions and sensations – 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 ‘raga’, 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 ‘dukha’.
The opposite of this is ‘dvesa’, which translates as ‘aversion’, often to pain or suffering – 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 – if we think about it – never really ends….
Even when we feel content, there’s 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 ‘good’, 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’re made whole by allowing ourselves to experience every emotion there is to offer. There doesn’t have to be ‘good’ and ‘bad’ in every situation, there simply just ‘is’, 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
‘Abundance’ means to have a large amount of something – 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 ‘I am enough’ and see how it affects your life.
EkhartYoga members: Explore Patanjali's Yamas and the other limbs in our guided online program...
If you'd like to explore the Yamas in practice, you can follow our programme 'The Eight Limbs of Yoga'. In this 8 week programme our aim is to 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.