Aparigraha: The Ancient Art Of Non-Attachment In A Modern World

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We’ve made it to the final yama; non-attachment.

If you’ve been reading along with the other yama articles, you will know the other four are:

1. Ahimsa

2. Asteya

3. Satya

4. Brahmacharya

They all serve as guidelines to help us navigate the world around us; material possessions, people, relationships, and importantly, ourselves.

As well as non-attachment, aparigraha is also sometimes referred to as non-possession or non-greed. So let’s take a look at the final yama in some more depth, we’ll review:

  • Aparigraha Meaning
  • Aparigraha In The Bhagavad Gita
  • Aparigraha In Your life
  • Aparigraha In Your Practice
person with their arms open looking a the sun

Aparigraha Meaning

In its simplest form, aparigraha asks us not to hoard, be greedy, or possessive.

Much like asteya, it asks us not to take more than what we need. It’s different from the other yama in the sense that it guides us to only take what is necessary and let go of what no longer serves us, rather than not steal from others or the world around us.

Aparigraha is about working out what is necessary for you to have in this particular season of your life, and letting go of the rest. Something that we could probably all use more of!

It’s a form of discipline, self-control, and commitment to the path of liberation. Through the practice of non-attachment, we develop an intimate relationship with ourselves and can witness our true nature on a much deeper level.

Just think about how much having an attachment to certain outcomes or relationships affects your life.

Whether it’s expecting someone to act a certain way and they don’t, leaving you upset, angry, or resentful, or working really hard on a project for it to go wrong or for you to make mistakes, leaving you frustrated and deflated.

Maybe you’ve been recommended a movie or tv show by so many people but when you get around to watching it you’re bitterly disappointed.

Often we spend so much time and energy thinking about or trying to control the outcome that it stops us from being fully present in the moment and takes away the joy of the process.

Joy may be a misleading way of thinking about it because we don’t even necessarily have to enjoy the process; all we need is to be completely absorbed in presence awareness, experiencing the fullness of life whether it’s ‘good’ or ‘bad’.

man kicking at the sea

Some people confuse aparigraha with apathy, but it certainly doesn’t mean this. It’s more about non-clinging so we can avoid the way our expectations tend to take over our experience.

In essence, the things we own or try to own (experiences, possessions, or people) can end up owning us. Aparigraha is not about getting rid of everything that we own, but making sure that nothing owns us.

Aparigraha In the Bhagavad Gita

In the Bhagavad Gita, the practice of aparigraha seems a little harsher than some of us might practice in the 21st century, but it gives us a good idea of what Patanjali intended when he laid out the yamas.

nirāśhīr yata-chittātmā tyakta-sarva-parigrahaḥ
śhārīraṁ kevalaṁ karma kurvan nāpnoti kilbiṣham

He who is free from hope, who is self-controlled, who has abandoned all possessions, though working merely with the body, does not incur sin.

Bhagavad Gita: Chapter 4, Verse 21


yogī yuñjīta satatam ātmānaṁ rahasi sthitaḥ
ekākī yata-chittātmā nirāśhīr aparigrahaḥ

Those who seek the state of yoga should reside in seclusion, constantly engaged in meditation with a controlled mind and body, getting rid of desires and possessions for enjoyment.

Bhagavad Gita: Chapter 6, Verse 10

In the Gita, the abandonment of possessions is considered an important part of turning inwards and making a commitment to discovering the Atman. The Atman, the universal self, is the part of us that transcends the cycle of death and rebirth, achieving moksha.

As well as this, Krishna focuses a lot on karma yoga and the idea that we should not be attached to the outcome of our actions. Our concern should only be with the action itself, rather than the intended consequence of our actions.

For example, we shouldn’t just give to charity or volunteer because it makes us feel good, for tax reasons, or because it looks good on our resume. Our actions should be completely selfless, and it is through this path of selfless action and work that we come to know moksha.

dandelion blowing in the breeze

This becomes part of the process of detaching ourselves from objects, moments, or experiences that we look to for external validation. We become totally self-reliant.

Aparigraha, along with other yogic practices and guidance, simply accelerates the process of spiritual mastery, detaching us from things we no longer need or that hinder our progress.

Ultimately, it frees us from the demands of our senses and mind, through which the Atma can never be known.

Aparigraha in your life

1. Declutter!

Get rid of everything that no longer serves you or that you know longer need. Items in your house, clothes in your wardrobe, emails in your inbox…

I’m sure you’re already thinking about all of those things that are taking up space in your life that you no longer use.

I’m certainly thinking about all of the clothes that are sitting in my wardrobe that I haven’t had the discipline to part with yet (as well as an attic full of things I ‘might need in the future’!).

If you’re already a minimalist, then you might not need this step, but if you’re anything like me then you will probably have a lot of ‘stuff’ that you’ve accumulated over the past few years and beyond.

person decluttering their clothes

Tune into your breath and body and ask yourself:

When I look at the things around my home, do they bring a sense of expansion and lightness, or contraction and heaviness?

I would say if they bring you lightness, keep them. If not, let them go! Move in the direction of expansiveness.

You might even want to introduce the ‘one in, one out’ rule – every time you buy something new, get rid of something you no longer use or need anymore and give it to charity or someone who needs it.

It’s ok to free yourself of your possessions! You will likely feel a lot better for it too. They aren’t a part of your identity and getting rid of them won’t change who you are as a person. Realizing this is part of the process of aparigraha.

When you stop the process of accumulation you become self-reliant, understanding that no amount of external possessions can bring you happiness without first finding happiness within.

2. Remove your expectations

Of places, people, and yourself.

Since everything is impermanent, nothing truly belongs to us, yet why do we try so hard to control particular things in our lives? This includes our perceived identities too.

man closing his eyes and breathing deeply

A huge one for me, for example, is letting go of the need to be right. Who am I trying to prove something to? Why do I feel the need to be right and for other people to acknowledge this?

Ultimately, it’s just about satisfying my ego and really serves no purpose for my growth other than (maybe) making me feel good about myself for a little while.

Trying our best to remove expectations will control the ego and prevent it from interjecting in situations where it’s not needed!

If things turn out differently from how we had hoped, that’s ok. Acknowledge that you are disappointed or frustrated and allow yourself to feel those emotions… then go back to trusting in the divine timing of the universe.

Over time, you will learn to become detached from more and more.

3. Practice forgiveness

Notice how you are holding onto memories, past hurts, or grudges for people who have wronged you. Those are hurting nobody other than you – they simply aren’t serving you.

When we let go, we grow and come closer to knowing the infinite nature of the true self.

birds flying in the sky next to the sun

Hoʻoponopono, an ancient Hawaiian practice of forgiveness, is a beautiful way to start using forgiveness in your daily life.

It moves through 4 stages:

  • Step 1: Repentance

I’m sorry

  • Step 2: Ask Forgiveness

Please forgive me

  • Step 3: Gratitude

Thank you

  • Step 4: Love

I love you

Aparigraha in your Practice

1. Just breathe

The breath is a perfect reminder to let it go. Trust that what you need will always come back to you. We don’t hold onto our breath with the fear that we might not inhale again – we just trust.

You might notice that you hold your breath during particular asanas that you find difficult, notice if this is because you are attached to the idea of achieving a ‘perfect’ pose or ‘seamless’ transitions, instead of taking the moment or asana for what it is.

It might have a story attached to it too; I can’t do this pose, this pose hurts, or I’m not strong enough for this pose.

When you feel overwhelmed, in your practice or in life, take a few moments to breathe deeply and absorb yourself into the present.

person with their hands on their heart

2. Quit comparison

This is one we’ve heard time and time again and feels like it’s the answer for applying pretty much all of the other yamas (I think Patanjali was trying to tell us something!).

When we are concerned with someone else’s practice, we put expectations on ourselves to do things that don’t feel right to us. This might be trying to practice for more time than we want to, forcing ourselves into ‘advanced’ asanas, or wearing particular ‘yoga clothes’.

And when we don’t meet these expectations, guess what happens? We get annoyed, upset, angry, disappointed, self-critical, or all of the above.

We lose sight of why we are practicing, it becomes a competition with ourselves or others instead of a practice to find stillness and get closer to our true nature.

When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be

Lao Tzu

If you want to take a look at philosophy beyond the yamas, you can read about the niyamas in our yogajala encyclopedia here:

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Liz is a Qigong and Yoga teacher based in Gloucestershire with a love for all things movement, nature & community. She strives to create a trauma-informed space in which everyone is empowered to be their authentic selves. www.elizabethburns.co.uk

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