Asteya pratisthayam sarva ratna upasthanam
When non-stealing (asteya) is established, all jewels, or treasures, present themselves and become available to the Yogi.Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras 2.37
The Yama of Asteya, or non-stealing as it’s often defined, is about much more than not taking tangible objects from stores or friends without permission.
This is probably unsurprising to you if you’ve been following our Yama series so far and reading our articles on Ahimsa and Satya. The concept of each one stretches far beyond its initial translation!
The principle of Asteya is grounded in integrity, reciprocity, and appreciation for what you have.
As you can see from the above quote from Patanjali, when we abide by Asteya, everything we need becomes available to us, so let’s dive into:
- What Asteya Is
- 5 Ways To Use Asteya In Daily Life
- 3 Ways To Use Asteya In Your Yoga Practice
What Is Asteya?
When you realize that the source of all solutions that ou seek outside yourself are always present within you, Asteya happens naturally.Yogi Amrit Desai
This Yama, above everything, invites us to think about our relationship with the world around us.
This concept of non-stealing should be applied to every area of our life, both the material world and our relationships.
Think about all the ways we can steal things from others, and this isn’t just done by not paying for things. Asteya definitely applies to items or objects, but also to information, time, and energy.
We might over-buy food for our weekly shop and end up throwing it away, claim something that somebody else said as our own, or take up too much of a worker’s time when they have other customers to serve.
We also do this by not realizing what we have is enough, constantly drawn into the feeling that there is a void in our life that needs filling instead of feeling truly grateful for what we have.
Living in the 21st century, it’s so easy to be drawn into the trap of believing we always need more. New clothes, new hobbies, new homeware, new food, new experiences… the list goes on!
Often at the root of feeling lack, or that we don’t have ‘enough’, is fear and comparison. Asteya invites us to look inwards and find that everything we need is already within us.
The hungry ghost, a concept in Buddhism, describes beings who are driven by the constant need for new desires and are never satisfied with what they have.
If we live like this, we will never have enough. This comes back to the expression ‘comparison is the theft of joy‘.
Instead, when we focus on embracing what we have instead of wishing we had more, as Amrit Desai shares, Asteya happens naturally.
Ultimately, Asteya encourages us to not take what is not freely given and only use what we need to.
How To Use Asteya In Daily Life
1. Be present
When we live in presence awareness, we are giving ourselves the gift of the present moment over and over again. If we don’t live like this, constantly thinking about the future or caught up on the past, we are robbing ourselves of the present moment.
When you aren’t where your feet are, you’re stealing the experience of presence from yourself.
When we live in the present, we become aware of our entire being and the way this merges with the collective. We live in a state of oneness, it is a sanctuary.
2. Be grateful
If we focus on lack, we will never have enough. Think of all the things that we do have and, it sounds cliche, but these are the things that other people may only dream of having.
Family, friends, partners, a house, a bed, a car, a job, our health, tasty food, clean water, a phone with the ability to text or call anyone in the world… Could you imagine if some of our ancestors could see what we have access to now?!
And most of us have so much more than this, too, if we just took a moment to step back and appreciate it.
How could we ever need or desire more than this very moment?
To help with this, you might want to focus on building an abundance mentality.
As a Qigong as well as a Yoga Teacher, I, of course, have to include some beautiful wisdom from Lao Tzu on Asteya too!
Be content with what you have. Rejoice in the way things are. When you realize there is nothing lacking, the whole world belongs to you.Lao Tzu
3. Respect other’s time
Have you ever been on the receiving end of someone being late to meet you, canceling last minute, or just not showing up at all? Pretty frustrating, whether it was intentional, a mistake, or a completely unavoidable last-minute issue, right?
If we do this to another person, we are stealing their time (as well as probably their joy if they made an effort to attend and were waiting to see you!).
Try your best to practice good time management to respect other people’s time. You could do this by:
- Not overbooking yourself or agreeing to lots of commitments in a short space of time
- Set reminders for appointments on your phone or use a calendar
- Don’t wait until the last minute to leave, make sure you get there in plenty of time (there could be traffic!)
4. Work on minimalism
I know this one can be quite hard for most of us. Think of all the things you’ve accumulated over solely the last year, let alone your entire life!
Most of us are keeping things that we don’t need, have already read, never wear, or never use. This could be so much better off being donated to charity, where somebody might actually use it!
It can be a hard truth to hear that those material possessions won’t fill the hole in our lives if we feel like something’s missing. Gandhi, who practiced Asteya, said that ‘mankind’s greed and craving for artificial needs is also stealing’.
Minimalism might be too much for you (I know it is for me), so if that’s the case, you can work on Mary Kondo‘s method: live with less, live with only things that you truly love and cherish, and let go of the things that don’t ‘spark joy’ in you with gratitude.
5. Be an environmentalist
Sadly, our planet earth is probably the thing that is the most stolen from by humans.
Instead of respecting the environment and living in harmony with nature, we have instead destroyed it and depleted it’s resources.
But if we change our behavior and live by the guidance of Asteya, there is still hope.
Start by considering what you’re taking or stealing from the earth, or using more than what you need to.
You might be buying more food or clothes than you need, driving where you could walk, leaving lights on in your home, throwing away leftover food instead of eating it, or getting plastic bags from the store when you already have lots at home!
How To Use Asteya in your Yoga practice
1. Don’t appropriate yoga
Yoga is often culturally appropriated in modern times.
Cultural appropriation is when you take a practice or culture from marginalized groups (in this case South Asian/African/BIPOC groups) and market it into something that benefits the majority (white, wealthy people).
All you have to do to see the evidence of this is search ‘yoga’ in YouTube and see who the top teachers are. White, cis-gendered, able-bodied, mostly thin, men and women who are monetizing the practice of yoga.
As a white, cisgender, able-bodied yoga teacher, I am doing exactly the same through teaching. I acknowledge that my leading of classes feeds into a white-centered industry that marginalizes BIPOC teachers. But simply acknowledging this isn’t good enough.
I always want to improve my teaching and behavior to minimize appropriation and the stealing of other cultures that aren’t mine.
I try my best to promote the teachings of BIPOC yoga teachers, acknowledge the practice’s roots, challenge the culture of yoga purely being a ‘physical’ practice in my classes, and constantly learn about how I might be causing harm or stealing from other groups.
Even though I never intend to cause any harm, there are still many ways through which I could do so. It’s key as yogis that we must work to understand the intersections of violence and complex ways oppression can be worsened through our actions.
The problem lies not within you practicing or teaching yoga as a white person, but in the way that you might be contributing to its commercialization and being watered down.
We might be doing this through misusing sacred symbols, ignoring the origins of the practice, only thinking about what yoga can offer you instead of what you can offer the collective, or supporting teachers that treat yoga like a commodity or focus solely on the physical asana.
2. Be mindful of others
I’m sure you’ve been in class before when you’re trying to relax in savasana and someone starts rolling up their mat, zipping up their jacket, and maybe knocking their metal water bottle over on the floor!
Or maybe you’ve been trying to meditate before class when someone aggressively threw their mat down next to you or chatted throughout the lesson.
Whilst we can try, as yogis, to remain as peaceful as possible – it’s pretty irritating! This is the equivalent of someone not living by Asteya, they’re stealing our peace!
This is why it’s really important to move mindfully around the class, respecting others’ space and peace.
Turn up to class on time, too. Don’t take away from your own experience or devalue the time of the teacher.
3. Stay present in your practice
It can be so tempting to check your phone or fitness watch whilst you’re practicing asana or meditation. How long have I been meditating for now? Only 5 minutes?!
I’m sure you can see where this is going by now, but every time we do this, we steal from our own experience and well-being that we gain from being on the mat or meditating.
Be where you are, otherwise you will miss your life.Buddha
Asteya teaches us to be present and grateful; to admire the innate beauty of life and marvel at the gift of merely being on this planet without the need for anything else.