In yogic thought, the yamas, or ethical restraints, are collectively one of the eight branches of the yoga path, and there are five of them. The third is asteya, or non-stealing, which at first seems like a fairly simple task. However, as is true of all the yamas, it’s not as easy as it first appears to practice this moral precept.
There are two yamas preceding asteya. The first is ahimsa, or non-violence; the second is satya, or truthfulness. In practicing asteya, we work with these first two but then take our actions to a new level. By refraining from stealing, we expand our non-violent living beyond ourselves, moving our peace out into the world. Our truthful words become more than empty phrases, as we begin to embody the verity of our experience. Living with asteya means living with integrity and with conviction.
Most of us know not to go joyriding in a stranger’s car, and we know not to break into someone else’s house. However, what about that extra donut in the break room? Or the reputation we shred when we indulge in a bit of ‘harmless’ gossip? What about someone else’s good mood when we snap at them? Or their peace of mind when we give dirty looks to their screaming children as they stand in front of us at the grocery store? These are all small deeds, but they can be considered a form of stealing, as human experience is made up of moments as much or more than possessions.
It’s easy to read a description like this and get discouraged, but the point of this yama is not to chide but to instruct. The word yoga means “yoke” or “union” in Sanskrit, and each of the yamas are meant to start yogi/nis thinking about how to unite their daily lives with the direct experience of a Higher Power, however He/She/It/Them is conceived. When working with a concept such as asteya, the focus should be on the little steps that are possible day to day. No one of us can ever be perfect in this world, but we can move our lives closer to that which we seek. By doing this, we become more able to act in a way that is helpful to ourselves and others, and to, as Gandhi said, be the change we wish to see in the world.
When entering a yoga class, consider asteya as you place your mat. Are you taking up someone else’s space, or are you making room for others? As you move into your asana, note if you are stealing your own self-esteem by comparing your progress to that of others. When you take Savasana or Corpse Pose, note if you are able to stay in the pose mentally without stealing a moment to let your mind wander.
In daily life, the practice of asteya is much the same. As you go through your day, stop and note how your actions affect others. Are you stealing extra time from your co-workers by doing less than your share? How about those extra pens in the supply closet that no one will notice? And, if you are thinking that this kind of consideration is excessive, keep in mind that you will notice, and you will know how you live. Are your actions stealing your self-esteem?
The yogic path is arduous at times, and it’s important to proceed with gentleness and with love. When working with this yama give yourself time and patience, and know why it’s called a “yoga practice” rather than a “yoga perfect.” You are not expected to do it all today; the only thing that you are ultimately responsible for is the desire, will, and baby steps you need to improve from day to day. Namaste!