Yoga philosophy – Asteya

The underlying philosophy of yoga is simple: the physical, emotional and spiritual aspects of life are all heavily connected and feed off of one another. Yoga can help develop and strengthen all these dimensions in a person in parallel. People who don’t understand this philosophy and the technicalities that go with it, tend to treat yoga as an alternative to the gym – to work on just the physique, improve flexibility or shed weight. I say this with conviction because for a while, I was one of those people. Little did I know that yoga for the physique (asana) covers just one of the 8 limbs of Astanga yoga. The other limbs of Yama (ethical), Niyama (Discipline), Pranayama (breathing), Pratyahara (withdrawal), Dharna (concentration), Dhyana (concentration) and Samadhi (bliss) leave no stones unturned with helping us evolve into the best that we could be.

What took me by surprise is the level of detail some of these finer aspects get into, and that too thousands of years ago! Within Yama, for example, Patanjali has given structure to the concept of Asteya or non-stealing. At first glance, the topic looks straightforward, common and self-explanatory. But when we care enough to take a closer look, we realize that there are so many subtle ways to gain access to what does not belong to us. Stealing doesn’t only refer to those things that thieves do. Governments have been trying to control such behavior through negative reinforcement techniques, to make sure no one else follows suit. Asteya educates us about more intrinsic and effective ways to curb one’s desire to worldly things that one can live without, and then the desire to steal. In yoga, we are taught that when we no longer desire something it will come to us by itself. Paulo Coelho, inspired by this concept, sums it up in his famous book, The Alchemist – ‘If you are brave enough to say “good-bye”, life will reward you with a new “hello”.’

– Ruthu Shree Ragavan