Asteya is the fourth Yama of Patanjali’s Five Yamas of the Yoga Sutras. Asteya has been called non-stealing, non-covetousness, even non-desirousness, which essentially means non-jealousy. Just like the other Yamas & Niyamas , ‘non-stealing’ means so much more than not physically taking something from someone else.
The meaning behind Asteya refers to our actions, words and even our thoughts. You may be thinking, “I don’t think about stealing things all the time or at all.” but it means so much more than physical theft. To steal or ‘steya‘ pretty much means to take something that we are not entitled to. It can also refer to the thoughts we might have about something we desire but do not yet possess. To forsake a want and not have the desire to possess is Asteya.
One of the challenges of humanity is the inborn capacity to cause harm, be dishonest, steal, be greedy and jealous.
Asteya typically arises when:
- We feel insecure – We think that “we are not good enough…” Because we are insecure, we feel incomplete and thus desire to have more, thinking it would complete us and make us whole.
- We are jealous – We have what we need, but because someone else has something more, like a bigger car, nicer handbag, we feel the need to want more so that we can fit into the material society.
- We rob ourselves away from our true self – this can mean changing our demeanour to satisfy someone just to be accepted.
In yoga asana practice, I find myself constantly reminding myself to practice Asteya. There is always the desire to be able to master that arm balance, inversion or pose that everyone else seems to be able to breeze through. I used to push myself to stretch deeper, reach further and hold longer. It was unnatural and unsatisfying because I knew my body was not ready back then. It also often led to more frequent visits to my chiropractor.
I was fortunate to have a very good yoga teacher who constantly reassures us that we should never push ourselves beyond our limits. One great example was when I was learning to do headstand. He would help me after class and kept asking me what’s the rush, there’s no need to compare? He insisted that I should be patient and keep walking forward until I can comfortably hold in “hip over shoulders” position for 1 minute. He also reminded me to observe the sensations of that position and stretch before I proceed to lift my legs. I tried and practiced the routine daily and a week later, I was surprised how I was able to casually lift my legs off the mat.
Over time, I’ve learnt to accept myself and my body’s limitations. Without the desire to achieve certain poses just because someone else could, I was able to bring awareness to my breath and body and understand what I can or cannot do. I surprised myself because, despite being unable to achieve some of the poses I desire, I was happy because I was listening to my body and working with my true self and capabilities.
I leave you with this quote by Swami Sivananda, which is so true and precious –
“If you are established in non-stealing, all wealth will come to you”
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