The Third Yama…
In this blog series we’re exploring the basics of yoga philosophy, and how to make them relevant to our everyday lives. This month we’ll look at the third Yama or universal observance, which is Asteya, or non-stealing.
Just like the previous two Yamas – Ahimsa (non-violence) and Satya (truthfulness) – Asteya seems pretty self-explanatory. We don’t go round nicking other people’s stuff, and we’ve known that since childhood. But in common with its predecessors, there’s more to practising Asteya than meets the eye.
Do you find your mind wandering when you’re talking to someone? Do you dismiss compliments paid to you? Do you find yourself staying up later than you’d intended – watching Netflix or just messing about – when you’d promised yourself an early night? Each of these is an example of how we might subtly steal from ourselves and others. When our minds wander in conversation, we rob both ourselves and our companions of the opportunity for real connection. When we dismiss a compliment rather than simply saying ‘thank you’, we rob the giver of their attempt to make us feel appreciated. And when we allow our good habits to fall by the wayside, we rob ourselves not only of those health benefits, but also of the feeling of being proud of ourselves for practising self-care.
Applying Asteya to Real Life
So how do we practise Asteya? When we become aware of these tiny, insidious acts, we can make the conscious choice to do the opposite, and explore how that might feel instead. The opposite of stealth-stealing is a generosity of spirit, both to ourselves and others. Here are some of the ways in which we might steal without realising it – try observing your own behaviour and exploring opportunities to practise Asteya!
– Placing our own expectations on others. When we label our partner ‘the strong one’, we rob them of the chance to show us their vulnerability, as well as robbing ourselves of the chance to truly know them behind the mask we’ve imposed upon them. When we try too hard to steer a child down a certain route because they show an aptitude, we rob them of the chance to express themselves as they wish. When we fail to see our parents as human beings with private lives and feelings, we all miss out on the chance for a greater understanding of each other.
– Hiding our light under a bushel. None of us are special, but every single one of us is unique, and we each have talents which can benefit others. False modesty and shyness serve no-one, so don’t deprive the world of your gifts. In the words of that great sage Dolly Parton: ‘Honey, sometimes you just gotta get out there and honk your horn!’
– Guilt-trips. There’s no point indulging yourself once in a while if you’re going to steal all the fun away by going on a guilt-trip afterwards. If you’re going to do it, do it: eat the piece of cake / watch the trashy TV show / treat yourself to the dress – and OWN your decision and your pleasure. As long as it’s occasional and you’re not damaging yourself or others, life’s frivolous little treats are to be savoured and enjoyed.
– Taking the easy road. If we always stay in our comfort zones and never challenge ourselves, we rob ourselves of the chance to discover what we’re really capable of. Hint: it’s way more than we think.
How else can you imagine that you might stealth-steal from yourself and others? How might you turn that around and practise Asteya instead?
None of these yogic principles are intended as sticks with which to beat ourselves. We are fallible humans, and nobody perfectly embodies all of these concepts all the time. The Yamas and Niyamas are a framework for greater self-awareness, to lead us ultimately to greater happiness. When we practise yoga, we become more conscious of our patterns and tendencies, our strengths and shortcomings, and we cultivate the ability to stay present, so experiencing a far greater slice of life. And it strikes me that sleepwalking through life is the biggest self-theft of all!
Be present, be conscious, be kind. Namaste.