Yoga, the journey inward. Then why do we care so much about looking good in yoga class, or keeping up with everyone in a challenging class? Like it’s a competition. And all those mirrors! It’s hard not to judge and compare, right? Recently, someone commented to me that he was avoiding trying yoga because he “doesn’t like to do anything unless [he] can excel at it.”
Ah! The quest for perfection. The quest for not being a doofus. I understand that. Even in the Iyengar tradition of yoga, there is an ideal form for each and every posture, which seems to emphasize the drive to be perfect. Yes, that’s useful as a vision and a map into each pose, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Touching that foot or binding that arm will come. It will come with consistent and applied effort, and also with a level of non-attachment to anything – including instant perfection or “looking good” in your first month of yoga class. Do not “steal” the next stage in each pose when you are not ready for it. Instead, avoid this form of theft, this form of “asteya“, and work where you are right now. Enjoy being a beginner.
Stealing, According to Patanjali
The first of the eight “limbs” of yoga, the Yamas, are five things to abstain from. Harm, dishonesty, theft, waste, and greed. Sounds like some good rules for a happier world. Together with the five Niyamas, they form the “ten commandments” of yoga philosophy.
The third yama is “asteya”. Patanjali in his book The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, writes “Asteya pratisthayam sarva ratnopasthanam: To one established in non-stealing, all wealth comes.” (Translation by Sri Swami Satchidananda). So, by not taking from others or nature, wealth actually appears in our lives. Wealth actually appears in our lives.
Not stealing is a very broad subject that could cover entire economic systems and government policies, all the way down to minute details like not grabbing supplies from your place of work and taking them home. Greed, hording, defending our possessions, fighting, and pillaging seem to be inexorably linked to our human experience; don’t we need to compete for resources in order to survive? Isn’t that the natural order? Actually, the need to fight to the death against rival tribes/social classes for scarce resources was supposed to be over centuries ago, given our intelligence and cultural advancements. But I digress!
How can we steal less often, so that we can experience this influx of wealth that Patanjali writes about? Patience has a lot to do with it.
Back To Yoga Class
In yoga class, over-reaching for the next level in a pose is a natural tendency, but when it is ego-driven, it is not yoga. It’s a miserable boot camp. Yes, we want to be as good as our neighbour in class, and of course it’s good to get out of our comfort zone and dive into the amazing transformation that asana (yoga pose) practice delivers. But I occasionally see students striving for that fancy, final outer form, and bypassing the beginner modifications, with pained looks on their faces, while holding their breath. This is stealing from yourself. From your future self. Doing the splits (Hanumanasana) before the hip flexors have been properly opened, conditioned, and strengthened, or forcing touching your toes before the hamstrings are ready can lead to injury and frustration. It’s stealing, shortcut-seeking, and over-reaching. And that’s baaad….mmmkay?
How This Relates To Life
Asteya in the sense of stealing from one’s self, reminds me of neediness, that feeling in our lives of wanting something, and feeling empty because it is not here (yet). So we try to take it. Maybe it’s a relationship or love. We spend our energy reaching for a relationship, trying to take someone for ourselves. From the outside, we may appear to others as needy, incomplete, and unhappy. Who wants to date that?
On the other hand, not trying to find and take someone for ourselves, but instead looking inside and resting comfortably in our present circumstances (and seeing all that we have), leads to peace. That then leads to joy. From the outside, we appear joyous and secure, in need of nothing. Complete. And desirable to others.
So, the point is:
- enjoy where you are and
- place one foot in front of the other and
- take lots of small, forward-moving steps (which is the definition of vinyasa)
…and experience growth, evolution, and joy…in your yoga practice, in your love life, and on the job. Resist the urge to grasp and steal. And you will soon start to feel wealthy.