Asteya: Non-Stealing

In the US, we often think of yoga as the physical yoga poses we do while standing on our yoga mats. Yoga is actually much more than that. Yoga is comprised of 8 "limbs" or "branches," and the physical yoga poses, asanas, are just one of those limbs. The 8 limbs in order are:

  • Yamas - ethical rules for dealing with others
  • Niyamas - ethical rules for ourselves
  • Pranayama - breathing practice to direct our energy
  • Asana - physical yoga poses
  • Pratyahara - withdrawal from our 5 senses
  • Dharana - focus
  • Dhyana - sustained focus (meditation)
  • Samadhi - becoming one with the object of meditation

Today I'd like to spotlight one of the Yamas that is important to me: Asteya (ah-stay-yah).

Asteya is a Sanskrit word that translates simply as non-stealing. On the surface, this seems simple: don't take things that don't belong to you. But if you dig deeper, there's so much more.

Non-Coveting Asteya can also mean not coveting - do not want for something that is not yours. If, for example, you admire and desire your friend's purse or car or physique, it will only cause you pain and waste your energy. "Oh I love her car, I wish I could afford her car, my life would be so much better if I had a car like hers." When you have these thoughts, you begin to believe that your life is lacking. You focus on what is missing in your life, rather than appreciating all do you have.

Non-Hoarding Another aspect of asteya is non-hoarding - do not amass things you do not need or do not need yet. The problem with hoarding (for me, this tends to happen in my kitchen pantry and garage) is that it creates a mindset of scarcity and creates stress. "There's not enough to go around, I need to stock up on these things just in case." Then you realize you've made a big investment in things you don't need, or don't need yet, plus you have a ton of stuff and clutter to deal with. Or worse yet, your hoarding creates a situation where another person does not get their due.

Instead, practice buying or taking only what you need. Cultivate a mindset of abundance, knowing that when and if you need more of something, the grocery store or the universe will have it in stock for you.

Subtle Aspects of Non-Stealing Of all the aspects of asteya, the one that resonates most with me personally is one that is so subtle you might not ever have thought about it - do not obstruct other people's desires. This applies mostly to people's time, dreams, and habits. The example that comes up on almost a daily basis is stealing people's time.

How many times has a telemarketer tried to keep you on the phone to sell you something you don't need or want? That telemarketer was stealing your time. It was your time that you did not want to give, and he was taking it, so in essence he was stealing.

The same applies for in-person conversations where one of the people hangs on too long. Have you ever been in a situation where you're finished talking to a person and they just keep going on and on? They are stealing your time.

Being late for appointments is another way to steal someone's time. If you agree to meet someone at a certain time, you have set aside that time for them. You stop your previous activity to be prepared for their arrival. If they arrive late, it is a signal that they do not respect your time. You are wasting your precious time waiting for them, instead of potentially doing something more productive or meaningful. Before I was aware of this concept of stealing, I was chronically late. Now I make a conscious effort to arrive on time and if I'm going to be late, I let the other person know as soon as I realize I'm going to be late.

Another way of stealing by obstructing other's desires is to squash their dreams. Say your friend tells you she's planning to go back to school. Out of jealousy or some other emotion, you tell her why you think her decision is a bad one. Maybe you tell her the school has a bad reputation or why you think her chosen field is a poor choice. You are stealing her happiness and her dream by poo-pooing it.

Finally, if you've ever been in or witnessed a situation where a person doesn't allow another person to just be themselves, you've seen an example of someone stealing another person's humanity. The common adage of a girlfriend trying to change her boyfriend is a good example. When someone criticizes or tries to change their partner's or friend's habits or personality, they are stealing from their humanity, their uniqueness, the fiber of what makes them, them.

Who knew non-stealing could be such a deep and complex topic?

Now that you know about the yogic concept of asteya, you might find yourself more aware of subtle forms of stealing. You might protect yourself and your energy by not allowing people to steal from you. You might find new ways to be loving and respectful toward the people in your life.

What do you think about asteya? I'd love to hear your thoughts in the Comments section below. Do you consider coveting and hoarding as forms of stealing? Have people been stealing your time? Have you unknowingly been stealing other people's time? What methods might you employ to not allow people to steal from you?

Until next time, Lots of love, Zelinda