Yamas: Asteya [Non-Stealing]

When I was first introduced to this term, I was unimpressed. I heard it at base-level. I thought, “Of course. Don’t take people’s stuff.” But, as you know from our previous discussions about yoga’s ethical guidelines (here and here), there is always a lot more than we think going on beneath the surface.

For those of you who are unfamiliar, the yamas, or “restraints,” are one of the eight yogic limbs. We often associate yoga with just the physical postures (known as asanas). However, the truth is, practicing yoga goes well beyond the mat.

Though the term “restraints” can sound restricting, the yamas are simply meant to embody-in all their various applications-a guide to ethical conduct within an ambiguous world. In this way, they empower us to show up for ourselves and for each other. Of course, figuring out the proper course of action is not always simple. Each yama can be applied in a number of ways. I admit, I was not seeing this when I first learned about asteya, or non-stealing. Just as the yamas we have talked about so far have had many different flavors, so, too, does asteya.

First, let’s talk about what happens when we steal. It means that we are taking what does not belong to us. This can happen in ways that we don’t even consciously consider.

We abuse our environment now, depriving future generations from having the resources that we enjoy. We don’t address an issue with a friend for fear of transparency, preventing that friend from a chance to make the situation right. We don’t set our alarms early enough to prepare for the day ahead, sometimes deflecting the chance to set ourselves up for success for the day. Or, we set our alarms too early out of anxiety and miss out on a proper amount of sleep.

When we don’t take care of something that needs to be done. When we don’t listen to our bodies. When we don’t take care of ourselves. We we don’t take care of our relationships. When we don’t give back to the people, places, and things that nourish us. When we push and push and push until we pour from an empty cup. When we ask others to do the same. When we try to overpower those around us. When we don’t celebrate each other’s successes. When we don’t rise up for what life delivers to us–

stealing means we miss out.

Asteya is a call to embody more integrity and reciprocity. Just as you cannot pour from an empty cup, so, too, can you miss out on a fulfilling life if you are not giving yourself to the parts of the world that call to you. Alfred Adler insisted that social interest was a powerful measure of a person’s mental health status. When we nourish our interests, we seek to share them; when we share them, everybody benefits.

While we often associate restraints with limitations, asteya is actually a call to action. It asks that we show up for ourselves, and for the people, places, and things that we find important. Where asteya encourages us to refrain from stealing, it also encourages us to act upon what we know in our hearts is right.

It might take a moment to decipher. It might take years to set things straight. The point is that we show up.

Further Discussion:

  • What about asteya stood out to you? Did it relate to self, other, the world?
  • Take notice of the places in your life where you steal or have felt stolen from. How can you use asteya as a guiding force to right the balance of energies?
  • Where can you develop more reciprocity in your life? Do you need more from those around you, or do you feel you can offer more, yourself?

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