The yama and niyama outlined in the Yoga Sutra of Patanjali are Yoga’s ethical precepts. Today we will be exploring the third yama: aparigraha, which means “non-possessiveness”. For more information about the yama and niyama, see this post.
When I was a child, there was a popular game “Hungry Hungry Hippos”. Each of the four players gets a hippo. All of the hippos begin the game with five marbles in their mouths. To begin the game, the hippos open their mouths and the marbles are released. Everyone tries to capture the marbles in their hippo’s mouth. At the end of the game, whoever’s hippo has captured the most marbles wins!
Although fun and enjoyable as a children’s board game, this attitude toward consumption is distressing in real-life. We all have very real needs for adequate food, clothing, shelter, and health care. When those needs are not met, we not only experience the direct consequences of going without, such as hunger and homelessness, but we also experience greater degrees of stress, illness, and anxiety.
The desire-possessiveness cycle.
Aparigraha means “non-possessiveness”. Beyond simply not being greedy, the fifth yama addresses the relationship we have with material goods. Some people mistakenly believe that acquiring more of the goods they covet will bring them greater peace of mind.
When we become fixated on the acquisition of having more than we need of something, we mistakenly believe that the object of our desire will bring us peace. We forget that peace is always available to us, no matter the circumstances we find ourselves in. When we take more than what we need, we confuse our desire for feeling at peace with our desire for the object itself. This leads us to crave the desired object, go to great (and sometimes disturbing) lengths to acquire it, and then repeat the process over and over because it does not satisfy our real need: to be at peace in the present moment.
Remembering we are abundant beings.
Aparigraha acknowledges our very real human needs. It is important that we meet those needs. Aparigraha does not discourage us from enjoying our livelihood and having nice things. There is nothing “spiritual” about going without! The spirit of aparigraha is not one of deprivation, but a remembrance of our innate abundance.
We are spiritual beings having a physical experience. Everything in the physical world is impermanent. From a yogic perspective, if it is impermanent, it is an illusion. Aparigraha asks that we not identify ourselves with the transient physical world. Instead, it reminds us we are full of potential. As spiritual beings we can tap into unlimited resources such as creativity, intelligence, and resourcefulness to meet our needs in the temporal world. Our physical selves are indeed limited by time and space. Our spiritual selves -the truth of who we are- are full of possibility and potentiality!
Aparigraha means taking good care of ourselves… and others.
All yoga practices, of which aparigraha is one, are practiced in light of the first yama, ahimsa. Ahimsa means “non-harming”. When we practice aparigraha, it is important that we apply the principle of non-harming to others and ourselves. Practicing aparigraha means we do not take any more than we need. Not only does this keep us from falling into a cycle of desiring and hoarding goods, but it also ensures that other people have access to resources that meet their needs.
Practicing aparigraha in the age of COVID-19:
- Be present. It is true that we may have to go from store to store to purchase all of the goods on our grocery list. However, most of the time we will be able to access the things we need. Remember, even if we cannot access a particular item on our list, we can tap into our infinitely intelligent and creative spiritual-selves and discover resourceful, sometimes surprising, ways to meet our needs.
- Be practical. Respond, don’t react. Reacting to a situation feels like stress, panic, and anxiety. We react when we feel triggered. Triggers cloud and color our ability to see a situation. Responding acknowledges the gravity of the situation at hand, is open to a variety of ways to address the situation, and allows us to determine and take the best course of action possible for us at the moment.
- Don’t worry about what other people are doing. In yoga class we often say, “I’m staying on my own mat.” This means we do not judge other people for where they are in their practice, nor do we judge ourselves. Many people are afraid. We may feel quite afraid ourselves! We cannot control what other people do or don’t do. However, we can choose how we will think and behave during these times for ourselves, and it is empowering to do so!
- Stay close to your daily spiritual practice. Yoga is one among many ways of doing a daily spiritual practice. The most important thing about doing spiritual practice is that it reminds you that you are always connected to others, to the Numinous, and to your Higher Self. When we remember our innate connection, we are able to live peacefully even under challenging circumstances.
One way to stay connected to your practice and to other people is by joining us at Eternal Health Yoga for our online classes and workshops. While we continue to practice physical distancing, we are still here to serve YOU, our beloved members! Join us online with Zoom as we continue to practice as one big, yoga family while keeping ourselves and each other safe and healthy!