The yama and niyama outlined in the Yoga Sutra of Patanjali are Yoga’s ethical precepts. This is the third post in a series about the yama and niyama. Today we will be exploring the third yama: asteya, or non-stealing. For more information about the yama and niyama, see this post.

Asteya: beyond “Thou shalt not steal.”

Asteya means “non-stealing”. Stealing is taking something that is not ours to take. Here in the West our lives are, in many ways, driven by a consumer-based economy. We often think of stealing in terms of material resources such as money and products. Today’s laws regarding theft are focused on property-related crimes such as larceny, robbery/burglary, and shoplifting. Traditionally, theft-related crimes included also included embezzlement and false pretenses.

Our laws reflecting stealing are focused on punishing the person who commits the crime and compensating the victim of the crime. This is a property-based approach to theft. While it may be useful in some ways, it does not solve the problem of theft.

Asteya is a human-centered approach to the problem of stealing. Indeed, it informs us of correct and incorrect behavior: do not steal. Its implications, however, are more far-reaching. Putting this yama into practice requires us to go beyond “not stealing”. Asteya invites us to re-examine our definition of theft and look at the root cause of why we steal in the first place.

Our beliefs about “enoughness”.

Our work as yogis is always on ourselves. Worldly laws regarding stealing are primarily focused on property and compensating the victim. Spiritual laws ask us to extend our compassion to the perpetrator. As we do, we gain a better understanding of why the perpetrator did what they did, how to address stealing in the future, and recognize the potential to steal within us.

People who believe in there is enough do not steal. Period. “Enoughness” means that not only do we believe have enough, but also that we believe we are enough. The wound the asteya practice seeks to address is the idea that we are lacking anything.

One does not have to be financially privileged to experience enoughness. There are some very wealthy people who do not experience enoughness, and some economically disadvantaged people who do. Most people experience moments of enoughness. We believe we have enough to make it through the day, but the future looks uncertain. Our insecurity makes stealing seem like a valid, even tempting, way to ensure our need are met.

Asteya and abundance.

Abundance is measures more than financial wealth. Economic justice is important. Let’s face it. In the material world, money helps! It is vital that we be able to provide for ourselves. We all need shelter, healthcare, and access to clean water and nutritious food. Money is a symbol of energetic exchange that allows us to meet our basic needs.

That being said, money isn’t everything. When our financial resources are limited, it can be helpful to focus on how we are abundant. Perhaps we have an abundance of skills, talents, and creativity? When we use our non-material resources, we forge connection with others and create the opportunity for greater financial stability to occur.

Asteya in practice: questions for reflection.

  1. Practicing asteya on our yoga mats and meditation cushions:
    1. Am I being honest with myself regarding what my body needs today, or am I dictating to my body what I believe it should do regardless of how it is feeling?
    2. Is this asana (yoga pose) helpful and healing for me right now, or is it doing more harm than good?
    3. Am I being honest with myself regarding my yoga practice? Am I challenging myself too much? Too little?
    4. How am I approaching my yoga practice? Does my yoga practice foster a greater sense of connection, or am I going through the motions? Does my practice fit into my life, or am I trying to live around my practice? Do I feel guilty or anxious if I miss a day of practice, or am I able to forgive myself and move on?
  2. Practicing asteya at work:
    1. How do I feel about my achievements? Do I honor them? Minimize them? Do I even acknowledge them at all?
    2. Do I feel the need to exaggerate my credentials and accomplishments?
    3. Am I honoring my employer’s time by coming into work and leaving at the appointed hour? When I am at work, do I stay on task or do I find myself engaging in non-work-related activities?
  3. Practicing asteya at home:
    1. Am I conscientious regarding my dwelling-mates? Do I respect their time, energy, and boundaries?
    2. Do I make an energetic contribution to my home through time, chores, upkeep, and/or financial resources?
    3. In what ways do I “steal” from my loved ones? Am I honest with them? Do I tell “white-lies” to avoid needed, healthy, but sometimes difficult conversations and situations?
    4. Do I give my relationships care, time, and attention? Do I find myself chronically distracted by work and other activities going on outside the home?