By Liz Heffernan
Generally, in my experience, the richness of the Yamas (ethical observances in the Yoga Sutras) comes by exploring below their surface. By looking for the subtleties in their meaning and journeying into their murky depths. It is here we find their treasures. Jewels that illuminate the path to a place within. A place where our direct access to love, peace and joy is more readily accessible. Specifically, Asteya, in yoga, is the third Yama, is often and commonly translated as “non-stealing”.
On face value, this translation sounds pretty much like what I learned growing up. It secretly leaves me to wonder why I need to revisit this again in Yoga class. These blanket statements of virtue, without discussion or reflection, tend to make my rebellious self rear its head. Rather than become defiant as I might have as a teen, I choose to focus on something else. Amazingly, however, I have found that the deep inspiration of Asteya in yoga, is accessed through digesting Patanjali’s entire sutra.
Yoga Sutra 2.37 says
Asteya pratisthayam sarva ratna upasthanam
“When one is established in refrainment from stealing, all jewels manifest.”
Indeed, the wisdom of Patanjali is that (s)he does not give the meaning of Asteya in yoga in a literal fashion. The word “sutra” means thread. These short phrases are threads, meant to be unpacked, contemplated, and ruminated over, chewed on again and again. It is through the very act of chewing and ruminating that we begin to digest their meaning. We absorb their offerings and their perspective begins to awaken in us the path to our true Self. This approach does not summon in me the rebel within. Rather it invokes my curious nature, the part of myself that wants to figure out the riddle and find the more I know is there.
Exploring Asteya in Yoga on the Mat
Although there are many levels of exploration worthy of self-reflection on this one topic, this month my contemplations have focused on the aspect of Asteya, which lies within our Matrika (subtle inner speech). Matrika invites us to become aware of our habits of thought and self-talk. This is true both as we practice yoga asana on the mat and navigate daily life,It is here, with Asteya in yoga as the lens to look through, many questions of interest arise.
- In yoga class, when I focus on my limitations, am I robbing myself of the opportunity to honor myself fully?
- Are there moments when I wish I had the strength (flexibility or alignment) of someone else in the room? Do all these wishes and wants actually take me away from the opportunity to be grateful for what I have?
- In practice am I wishing it was still my 30 year old body or my body 20 pounds lighter? Do these thoughts of desire for what I do not have steal me away from my own inner fulfillment?
- Does my mind wander to the past, rehashing the day, or draw me into thoughts of the future? Are my thoughts of the past and future stealing me away from the present moment and a fully lived life?
- Swami Sivananda says that “Desire is the root cause of all stealing”. Does my desire for what is not, steal me away from the magnificence of what is?
Matrika and Asteya in Yoga
The practice of Matrika is about bringing the often, unconscious inner dialog we use to view our world, to the conscious level. The next step is applying this awareness of our mind speak, to shift what does not serve us and refocus our attention on that which does. Additionally, in my personal experience, coming back to the breath, again and again, helps me to redirect my minds less inspiring tendencies. Shortly, each exhalation provides the opportunity to let go, empty out, release all wishes and wants and relinquish my critical mind. Also, the magnificence of each inhalation is in the opportunity to become more open to the beauty of this moment, right now.
Asteya and the Inner Journey
Contemplating Asteya in yoga from the perspective of our inner journey leads us to ultimately become more accepting of ourselves and more open to what the present moment has to offer. Through adopting an attitude of gratefulness we learn to embrace all we already have. Our lives are abundant, we have enough, and we are enough right now. Presently in my opinion, these are the jewels that Patanjali alludes to in his sutra, the treasure is reconnecting to the essence of life, realigning, again and again, with the source of our blessing.
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