(Complete and total just random by-the-way: I can’t decide if I should be capitalizing these guys or not, so I’m sort of sticking with not-capitalizing them except in the first paragraph, which makes, I know, no sense whatsoever. If you have thoughts about whether or not yamas should be capitalized, please leave a comment or drop me an email.)
It’s been quite an interesting practice bringing the yamas to life in my classes. I (selfishly) am enjoying the research I do to understand other people’s “takes” on the moral laws; it gives me ideas and it also gives me perspective on my own actions. This week, as I examined non-stealing, I found myself “stealing” several times.
No, I haven’t been shoplifting Yogitoes or ToeSox or anything like that. I manage to keep my kleptomania under control pretty nicely. It’s the less tangible “stealing” that’s a problem for me… and I’m thinking, maybe for you too.
You see, asteya means taking anything that is not freely offered.
This week I took some granola from a friend without asking her- see, I knew she’d say I could have some, so that’s okay, right? Yeah, not really. If I put myself in her shoes- and she was really hungry because she hadn’t eaten breakfast- I might feel a teensy bit resentful about that.
This week I also found a book that I forgot to return to a friend. He asked me a few weeks ago if I had ever given it back. I was pretty sure I had, so I said “Yes.” Naturally, I found it this week as I was cleaning. Of course I’m going to give it back to him, and he won’t be upset- but I stole from him, nonetheless. I stole his time with the book; I stole the book itself, for a time; I stole a little bit of his trust and confidence when I said “yes” even though I was only ‘pretty sure.’
These may seem petty- but as with all of the yamas, where we draw the line is arbitrary. Once our eyes are opened, as mine were, this week, we start to think about our actions in a new light.
Are you guilty of any of the following thefts? Can you identify what is being “stolen” in each of these scenarios? Answers at the bottom of the post.
- Parking in the “15 minute parking” when you know you’re going to be there for more than 15 minutes.
- Downloading music without paying for it
- Borrowing software from a friend and installing it- or using pirated software (listen to the rationalization in your head on this one)
- Telling someone else’s joke or using their quote without giving them credit
- Tipping the server less than usual because you spent more than you planned elsewhere that week
- Calling a friend and keeping them on the phone while you drive home because you’re bored
- Getting in the 10 items-or-less lane with more than 10 items
- Taking more than you can eat from the buffet
- Calling a meeting and arriving unprepared
- Teaching a yoga class and 1) starting late or 2) ending late
- Attending a yoga class and 1) arriving late or 2) leaving early
- Telling a story about another person that shows them in a less-than-favorable light
These are common thefts- are you completely innocent?
I’m going to commit another sort-of theft here- in my research on asteya, I found an interesting concept that I’d love to quote directly or link to, if I could find it (if you know who said it or where it is, please let me know so I can give credit). The basic idea was, when we steal, we’re making a choice: we care more about the outcome of our actions than we do about the collateral damage. For example, I’ll take the last cookie in the box because it is more important to me to enjoy the cookie than it is to let my husband have it.*
Or, let’s look at asteya from another angle. Gandhi said, ” We are not always aware of our real needs, and most of us improperly multiply our wants, and thus unconsciously make thieves out of ourselves.” The practice of yoga allows us to fine-tune our “needs” vs. “wants” thinking so that we can better understand what we really need.
Without that finer understanding, we are prey to the common fear that there is just not enough for everyone. Not enough cookies- not enough jobs- not enough money, or time, or friendship. We become jealous and fearful and grabby.
A physical practice to counter this fear is to bring more of a grounding element to our asana. You can easily add this element to your practice by doing the following:
- Take time for child’s pose. Bring the forehead to the earth, or a block or blanket if needed, and allow your exhales to invite a sense of dropping down, or melting into the earth. Take several deep breaths here- slow down each breath as much as you can- and feel the security of knowing you are completely supported.
- In Tadasana, Mountain pose, bring the feet together, or keep them hip width apart, with the toes slightly closer together than the heels. Have the outside edges of the feet parallel to the long edges of your mat. Close your eyes and feel the weight distribute evenly between all four corners of your feet. Lift your toes and observe the sensations there.
- During standing postures, close eyes, if possible, and press down as evenly as you can through all corners of the feet.
- Notice how much strength you can draw up from the earth. Practice isometrically drawing your front foot toward the back and the back foot toward the front- as though you were trying to wrinkle the mat between the two feet! This will draw up energy from your feet to the pelvic floor, up through the belly and spinal column, and to the crown of your head.
- In postures where one hand can touch the earth or a block- Trikonasana (Triangle Pose), Parsvottanasana (Pyramid Pose), Parsvakonasana (Side Angle Pose)- notice how one additional limb on the floor, or point of contact, can re-stabilize and re-ground you.
- Drishti- use the gaze as an additional grounding element in your practice. Look down at the earth and allow the features of your face to soften, as though gazing at someone you love.
Reminding ourselves that we are safe, secure, and grounded, is a lovely way to trust in abundance in the universe. Whether this is, for you, a trust in the natural order of things, or in a higher power, is your choice.
Rolf Gates, in his book Meditations From the Mat, says it well:
” An Alcoholics Anonymous text says, ‘Either God is or he is not.’ Each theft, each time we ‘forget’ to return something we’ve borrowed, each moment we give in to the impulse to covet or to be jealous, we are saying, ‘My God is not.’ To practice asteya, we must abandon ourselves to the care of the universe. We must be willing to give up all we have for the one true thing. We must say in each moment, with each thought, word, and deed, ‘My God is.’”
Answer Code: Who’s the victim?
- Parking in the “15 minute parking” when you know you’re going to be there for more than 15 minutes- steals the space from someone who needs it
- Downloading music without paying for it- steals from the artist and anyone else who would benefit.
- Borrowing software from a friend and installing it- or using pirated software (listen to the rationalization in your head on this one)- steals from the manufacturer, from the employees of the manufacturer, and from anyone else who would benefit.
- Telling someone else’s joke or using their quote without giving them credit- steals their opportunity to be respected, promoted, etc.
- Tipping the server less than usual because you spent more than you planned elsewhere that week- steals from the server.
- Calling a friend and keeping them on the phone while you drive home because you’re bored- I’m guilty of this. It steals their TIME.
- Getting in the 10 items-or-less lane with more than 10 items- steals the time (and sometimes, the sanity :)) of the others in line.
- Taking more than you can eat from the buffet – steals the food from anyone else who could eat it.
- Calling a meeting and arriving unprepared- steals the time of those who are attending.
- Teaching a yoga class and 1) starting late or 2) ending late- steals students’ time. Steals from yourself- takes the students’ respect away.
- Attending a yoga class and 1) arriving late or 2) leaving early- steals from the time of the class, if others are waiting, or if the instructor has to repeat. Leaving early- steals from yourself by not taking savasana; steals from others as it is distracting and causes them to have a harder time relaxing.
- Telling a story about another person that shows them in a less-than-favorable light- steals their reputation.
*This is a serial crime in my house, sad to say. Thankfully Danny is not a cookie fiend as I am. I could say, in fact, that he is a thief in the sense that he will let cookies sit for so long that they get old and moldy and we throw them away. He is depriving someone else the joy of eating that cookie. There, now I feel better.