Understanding Yamas: Asteya

Asteya, the third Yama.

In Sanskrit, the language of yoga, asteya translates to "non-stealing," or the ability to resist a desire for that which does not belong to us.

This yama gets easily overlooked because most of us aren't thieves in the traditional sense and thus don't believe it much pertains to us. While this of course does mean we should refrain from shoplifting or borrowing something with no intention of returning it, asteya also includes stealing energy, attention, time, peace, or the present moment away from ourselves and others. We're all guilty of this at some point or other.

Generally if a person is stealing (energetically or otherwise) it's because the mind is suffering in some way. The mind plays all sorts of stories about how we will fail, how we're incomplete or not good enough, how we don't deserve to have success or love or whatever it may be.

But the truth of our being is underneath the noise of the mind. We are not our thoughts. We aren't the fear-driven stories that are on repeat in our brains. As yogis, we practice detachment from those thoughts and stories to find the vast, peaceful stillness underneath.

So when we look into asteya we should keep this in mind. Those false stories of unworthiness not only rob us of our own peace, but can also cause suffering to those around us. We give the outside world what we have inside ourselves. When we're in a space of peace, we can give peace to others. If we're full of stress or fear, it floods into other people's experiences too.

When we slow down and quiet the mind's endless chatter, our fears begin to diminish as we realize that we are complete and worthy exactly as we are. We have everything we need. Understanding this creates the foundation for asteya.

Yoga Sutra 2:37 says, "When one is established in non-stealing, all wealth comes."

The ancient yogis believed that the most prized possessions were not material at all, but the joy and peace attained from a dedicated spiritual yoga practice. True wealth comes from living life in the present moment, full of love and gratitude. The more we steadily practice yoga, the wealthier our soul becomes, and earthly possessions, material or energetic, hold less value in our hearts.

The path of the yogi is one of virtue and integrity. The yogi develops mindfulness and respect for other people's personal experiences and possessions, and in fact should hope to add value to others' lives.

That is asteya; not only do we practice resisting what doesn't belong to us, but we practice bringing people more than we take from them.

We can easily do this when we're deeply grateful for and aware of all the blessings among us.

The Asteya Project.

The best way to combat our cravings and desires for what we don't have is to focus on what we do have. Every morning this week, make a list of what you're grateful for. Anything and everything, from health to people to materials, your dog or your job or the food in your fridge. Gratitude lists are powerful and will prove to you that abundance is everywhere, all the time, if you're willing to see. After you've written a solid list, sit with it. Close your eyes, take deep, purposeful breaths of gratitude for everything on that paper and everything you forgot to write down. Do your best to carry that sense of abundance in your heart as you go about your day and share it with the people around you. Can you do something for someone that could potentially end up on their own gratitude list?

Happy practicing!

For love, with love.


(All Photography by Sean Shelton @capturedconnections)

(Featured yogi: CJ Kessler @cj_yogidiver)

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