Welcome to the third post in my series on Yoga’s Yamas and Niyamas. So far we’ve discussed the first two yamas – ahimsa and satya. As a quick refresher, the yamas are taught as restraints, or behaviors to avoid. With ahimsa we learned to avoid violence, with satya we learned to avoid dishonesty. These seem super basic at first glance, but in learning to avoid violence we develop compassion for ourselves and others. In learning to avoid dishonesty, we become more skilled at living an authentic life. So, let’s dive into the third yama, asteya.
Asteya in a Nutshell
The third yama is asteya, or non-stealing. Again, this seems basic at first glance because everyone knows that stealing is bad. However, asteya teaches us non-stealing on a much deeper level than just not taking someone else’s possession. It teaches us to live with integrity and reciprocity. I think of it as a lesson in gratitude and a warning against selfishness. It teaches us to not become envious of others by focusing outward. It teaches us not to steal from the earth. The Sanskrit word adikara is a great parallel teaching to go alongside asteya. It means the right to know or the right to have. It teaches us that in order to have what we dream of, we have to be competent enough to achieve it, and hold on to it.
Gratitude is a great gateway to both a happier life, and a deeper understanding of asteya. Think about what gratitude does to your perspective, it shifts your focus from lack to contentment. It’s the fastest, easiest way to transform unhappiness to happiness because it shows you what you already have. Oftentimes, our unhappiness is rooted in envy and discontentment because we think other people are better off than we are. Asteya teaches us to see envy as a form of stealing. When you have a jealousy habit you are constantly wanting what other people have. It’s the thought process that precedes the physical act of theft. Of course, most people don’t act on these thoughts and feelings, but having a chronic case of jealousy will rob YOU of happiness more than anything else. Instead of viewing life from the perspective of ‘I’ll be happy WHEN…’ asteya teaches us that this attitude steals from the present. Being grateful for what we already have brings happiness into our lives as they are today.
Being grateful reveals the beauty and fortune already present, and practicing Asteya filters our deficiencies so life appears abundant without changing anything externally. – Courtney Seiberling
Comparison and Discontent in Relationships
Our modern upbringing makes comparing ourselves and our lives to others a daily occurrence. This habitual outward focus results in an almost constant state of lack. Jealousy flourishes like never before because of the endless uploads of carefully crafted photos and videos. This self-centered perspective can make us terrible listeners, as we listen to other people with the intention of ‘one-upping’ what they are saying. I realised once how a friend of mine never asked me about my life. Whenever I told her something about me, the story was immediately compared to a similar (but more impressive) story from her own life. When we feel that we are lacking, that manifests in our relationships through snide remarks, hurtful teasing and generally dragging others down. Think about how different a conversation feels with someone who is truly listening to you. It’s a gift to be able to sit with someone and be fully present in hearing what they’re saying. It’s a gift you can give yourself too! Let’s talk about the habits you can develop that draw upon the teaching of asteya.
All self-sabotage, lack of belief in ourselves, low self-esteem, judgments, criticisms, and demands for perfection are forms of self-abuse in which we destroy the very essence of our being. – Deborah Adele
Asteya Inspired Habits:
- Be present and listen to people when in conversation with them.
- Recognize and protect yourself from people who don’t listen to you.
- When you’re by yourself, focus on yourself. When you’re with others, focus on others.
- Make your own life exciting and meaningful, so you are not tempted to be jealous of others.
- Celebrate other people’s successes.
- Create space in your life to count your blessings and reflect on how you’re doing.
- Schedule time for yourself to journal, meditate and develop a yoga practice. You only need 30 minutes a day to do all three 😉
Asteya and Adikara
Building a life that is true to our desires, talents and needs is arguably the most important thing we can do with our time. Asteya and adikara are parallel teachings because asteya teaches us to focus on our true desires and then build the competency (adikara) to have and keep them. Life gives us challenges to overcome, so that if we succeed in overcoming them, we grow into the kind of people who can be trusted with important or valuable things. A good way to understand adikara is to think about people who win the lottery, and then lose it all within a year. They don’t have the competency to own all that money, so they lose it.
Think about something of value in your life that you had to work really hard to achieve. For me, earning a full-time online income took years. But, during those years I learned the skills and strategies I need in order to do my job well. That’s adikara.
- Visualize a life that fills you with a sense of contentment.
- Outline steps that bring you closer to that life. Are there things you can do, study or buy that would bring you closer to that life?
- Focus on what will increase your knowledge, ability or skills in order to build adikara and therefore make you capable of living of that life.
Stealing from the Earth
I don’t think you need me to tell you why asteya’s teaching on reciprocity and not stealing from the earth is relevant today. Most of us are very well aware of the climate crisis and how our modern societies take from the earth without giving back. As consumers we can do a lot by educating ourselves on the cost of our consumer decisions. We can eat plant-based, shop ethical brands or second-hand and prioritize short distance travel as much as we can.
A hundred times a day I remind myself that my inner and outer life depend upon the labors of other people, living and dead, and that I must exert myself in order to give in the full measure I have received and am still receiving. – Albert Einstein.
During my no spend year, it’s becoming painfully obvious to me just how much is available to me for free. Libraries with a treasure trove of endless books to entertain and teach me. Parks filled with crunchy golden leaves and cute squirrels to relax me. Sunrises and sunsets that to me with gratitude and excitement. Animals that offer companionship, warmth and love. Internet that connects me with family and friends, work that I love and an encyclopedia of knowledge.
More Asteya Inspired Habits:
- Gratitude for what we do have, which is a lot. Switch focus what we don’t have to the abundance that we already have.
- Reciprocity, giving back when you receive something.
- Eating a plant-based diet.
- Focusing on ethical, sustainable fashion and developing a capsule wardrobe.
- Remembering our ancestors and what they endured for future generations. The idea that the baton has now been passed to us.
Thanks for reading this third post in my series on Yoga’s Yamas and Niyamas. I hope you’ve enjoyed taking this journey with me in exploring asteya!
I’d love to hear from you, so feel free to leave me a comment. I’d also love to know, what part of asteya interested you most?
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