What I’m teaching…Thou shalt not take what has not been offered

Asteya (non-stealing) is the third yama in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras (yama=moral/ethical restraints that involve the yogis relationship to the outside world).  

asteya pratisthayam sarva ratnopasthanam

To one established in non-stealing, all wealth comes  

Yoga Sutra 2.37

Asteya means non-stealing.  At first glance, it is easy to check this yama off your list as “done” as you tell yourself “I don’t steal anything from anyone or anywhere”. But, you are likely thinking only of material objects (money, clothes, food, stuff!). When we widen the definition of stealing to taking that which has not been offered, however, there is MUCH more work to be done. Last week, I divided the teaching of asteya into three “parts”, so I could use the theme in each one of my classes (I have found that teaching this way becomes more of a lesson to me than anyone else).

First: off the mat…how do we take what has not been offered in our day-to-day lives?

  • Time- being late takes time away from those we are scheduled to meet.
  • Happiness- what happens to your family, co-workers, and friends when you are in a crappy mood for no reason?
  • Love- it can be very difficult to see this one.  When we are demanding of love, affection, attention, and energy in relationships…how does that often work out for us?
  • Safety- driving like a maniac or acting irresponsibly puts others at risk unfairly.
  • Power/Decision-making/Choice- I am the first to admit that I am control Freak (with a capital “F”!), but I know I suffer for it.  Controlling behavior takes power and the ability to think for themselves away from those around us.
  • Credit- give credit where credit is due.  Whose ideas or thoughts have inspired your own?
  • The earth- mother nature has been robbed over and over again.  Be aware of your consumption.  My motto is: use LESS, recycle MORE
Next:  on the mat…in what ways to we rob ourselves and our fellow yogis?
  • Time- being late to yoga class causes delays and is disruptive to the teacher and students.
  • Space- be mindful when choosing where you unroll your mat.  Are you taking up two spots?  Are you early to class? Instead of randomly placing your mat in the middle of the room, which creates an unbalanced and uneven classroom, start a row at the front.
  • Peace- It is difficult to stay focused and in your “yoga mindset” when someone’s cell phone rings or they get up and leave during savasana.
  • The journey- you rob yourself each time you compare, compete, and desire for the ability to practice a pose.  I think it is ok to be inspired by watching an advanced practice.  It allows you to see what’s possible.  However, there is a fine line between inspiration and jealousy.  Asana takes time.  That is the point of the practice.  It is an individual experience.  Example: have you ever been in class and thought to yourself that today might not be a good day to practice Sirsasana (headstand)? Maybe you’re menstruating or having neck pain.  Then, you see someone next to you or across the room going up and your ego starts to scream.  “You have to show everyone that you can do that, too!”
Lastly: tie it all together…what is the point to the practice of non-stealing?
If we want to become the world’s richest people, this is a very simple way…just practice non-stealing.  All of us are thieves.  Knowingly and unknowingly…if we are completely free from stealing and greed, contented with what we have, and if we keep serene minds, all wealth comes to us.  If we do not run after it, before long it runs after us.  If nature knows we aren’t greedy, she gains confidence in us, knowing we will never hold her for ourselves…the richest person is the one with a cool mind, free of tension and anxiety.
Sutra commentary by Sri Swami Satchidananda
When we practice non-stealing, all riches/jewels/wealth come to us.  Sri Swami Satchidananda gives a great example in his Sutra commentary.  Think about your last visit with a baby or pet cat/dog.  They come to you on their own, naturally curious and interested in you.  If you grab them into your arms and hold them tight against their will, not letting them go- they will squirm, fuss, and fight to get away and it would be highly unlikely that they would come back to you again anytime soon.  Instead, if the baby or pet is allowed to leave when they wish…they will always keep coming back to you to play!  The same is true in life.  When we take what has not been offered, we are stealing and will lose out each and every time.
When we are working through the yamas, learning to ACCEPT, WANT, and LOVE what we already have, mudra can be helpful.  Try Pushan mudra, which is said to aid in acceptance, digestion, and in easing anger.  
Sit comfortably with your legs crossed.  Take your right thumb to the index and middle fingers and place the back of your hand on your lap.  Take your left thumb to the middle and ring fingers and place the back of your hand on your lap.  Close your eyes and breathe.

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