Everything depends on our ability to sustainably inhabit this earth, and true sustainability will require us all to change our way of thinking on how we take from the earth and how we give back.
- Deb Haaland
Asteya, the 3rd Yama, is the principle of non-stealing, asking us to only take and receive what we need and what is freely given to us. Walking in the way of Asteya is humbling and liberating as we become aware of the abundances present in our lives, which leads us to gratitude and compassion and giving generously from our overflowing cup.
The most obvious application of Asteya is non-stealing in a materialistic sense. And while this is, of course, an important part of the practice we would withhold its endless possibilities by limiting ourselves to just this aspect.
So what are the different ways to approach this? Due to my limited lifetime and space in this blog, I am sharing just a small sample of how Asteya shows up most meaningful in my life.
Mindful breathing is one of the pillars of my daily practice as a student and teacher of yoga as well as a singer. Our breath is abundantly present as our quiet companion, continuously feeding us oxygen and life force.
We use our breath to speak and when, what, and how we say something is impactful and makes the difference between harming and healing (Ahimsa), lying and speaking the truth (Satya), stealing and non-stealing (Asteya). Often it is not easy to clearly make these distinctions as the true power of these practices reveals itself when we integrate them and allow one to emerge out of the other.
I recently attended a meeting where a group of us was asked to share a statement regarding a specific matter. We had knowledge of this assignment for weeks and thus plenty of time to prepare. During the meeting, about half of us stayed within the 2-3 minute timeframe we had been asked to honor, while the other half exceeded this limit, some taking more than twice as long.
One way to look at this is to point out that those going beyond the time limit were stealing everyone else’s time and therefor not observing Asteya.
However, in this particular case, our statements were of a personal matter, exposing us as vulnerable and emotional at times.
As I noticed my disgruntlement about the varying speaking times slowly but surely rising up, I turned to my breath, which allowed me to hold space for the stories we were sharing and honoring that some of us just needed this space and time to share and be heard.
We can probably all identify situations, where we have taken up more time than was given to us. When we take a closer look we will most likely see that in some of these instances we indeed did steal time from others, whereas in other cases this may have been a necessary act of abundance to bring forth truth and avoid or reduce harm in some way.
Asteya asks us to be fully human and thus acknowledge that we are part and partner of nature and a guest on this Earth. A popular self-care advice these days is to ‘spend time in nature’. While I fully embrace this notion and frequently preach it to my own family, the irony is not lost on me. We have separated ourselves from nature and taken on a dualistic view that nature somehow is separate from us. It is this false sense of dualism that allows us to cause the tremendous amount of harm and violence we inflict upon our home planet.
As long as we continue to uphold this illusion of separation and superiority, we will not break the cycle to convince ourselves that our actions may have consequences on nature and the environment, but that this somehow magically excludes us.
If we, however, observe the world around us with all our senses, we cannot help but marvel at the abundance of beauty, diversity, and resources our home has to offer and intuitively understand that these offerings are sacred.
We are asked to honor and protect them.
The Encyclopedia Britannica defines the Gaia Principle as ‘a model of the Earth in which its living and nonliving parts are viewed as a complex interacting system that can be thought of as a single organism.’
While this theory is quite controversial within the scientific community, it does remind us of a universal truth:
we are inseparable from nature and thus everything we do to this earth, we do to ourselves.
The indigenous peoples of this world have never failed to see and honor this wisdom.
Turning to yoga itself, we are presented with a wealth of opportunities to include Asteya into our practice. In order to do so, we must first pause, observe, and truthfully answer – what do we understand this practice to be or not to be, who is represented and who is missing in our yoga spaces?
How are we in our current time and especially in the West stealing from yoga, its origin, the culture and people of its birthplace?
How can we honor the roots of yoga by appreciating what we receive and giving back?
We are blessed with an abundance of South Asian voices in the yoga community, who so skillfully and insightfully lead these important conversations. As a white student and teacher of yoga I understand it as my responsibility to seek out these voices, uplift them, listen to them, and sit with the intense discomfort these conversations can unearth. In doing so we will naturally arrive at the point of questioning our desire to continuously add modalities to this practice that is already so rich to begin with. For me this is the only way to truly live this practice that has so much to offer and my commitment to Asteya.
If we take the time to truly observe all that we already have, it allows us to engage with our riches mindfully and we are much more likely to not cause harm to ourselves and others as the need to take diminishes.
We cannot change the actions of those that came before us but we can choose how we want to go forward on our path.
By taking only what we need and what is freely offered and giving with a full heart we partake in the sustainable cycle of abundance.