This month we continue our limb-by-limb exploration of the eight limbs of yoga as delineated by Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras. These eight precepts are intended as guidelines to living a life with meaning and purpose. They may be seen as a kind of map for seekers of greater happiness and spiritual fulfillment.
The first limb consists of the yamas, or universal ethical observances. The third of the five yamas is asteya, or non-stealing. On a superficial level this means abstaining from taking things that are not yours. But asteya’s deeper meaning is far beyond this. It also means not taking that which is not offered, including not just material objects but also time, thoughts, energy, emotions, and ideas. Its fundamental implication is that we should refrain from looking outside ourselves to other people, things, and situations to make us happy and fulfilled.
The urge to steal, whether material things or otherwise, often comes from the subconscious belief that there’s not enough to go around. This fear of lack or scarcity leads to greed or hoarding.
How does asteya come into play in our asana practice? You may keep it in mind when you’re practicing in a room full of advanced yogis gracefully flowing from asana to asana with perfect form and you find yourself wishing you could look just like the practitioner in front of you. You may turn to it when you find yourself holding back from really finding your edge in a pose because you’re afraid you won’t have enough energy to get through the class if you do.
We can practice asteya on the mat by honoring our bodies as they are here and now even while we work towards goals and aspirations. We can acknowledge that coveting what another has only leads to suffering and works against us in our practice and our lives. We can shift from a mindset of lack and scarcity to one of abundance and gratitude. We can act based upon the belief that the source of happiness and fulfillment lies not outside us but within us.
Christine Malossi is a yoga teacher and writer based in Manhattan.