Unlocking the Ethics of Yoga: Asteya & Aparigraha

Practicing yoga postures helps us become more present and (hopefully) get out of pain. What we do with that level of ease and clarity points to living yoga off our mats, in our daily lives.

The whole of yoga includes eight facets, or limbs, 7 of which reach beyond asana. This is the second post about the yamas (you can read the first installment here)The yamas are ethical suggestions for how we relate to the world around us in a more peaceful, yogic way.

As recorded in Patanjali’s yoga sutras there are five yamasIn this post we will cover just two: non-jealousy & non-attachment.

Asteya : non-jealousy

What ties these two yamas together is a deep and uncomfortable aspect of the human condition. All of us will, or currently do, feel empty, alone, unworthy or unloved.

This feeling of brokenness causes us to seek. It may motivate us to get back into our practice of asana or meditation. For many, trying to get out of pain is the first step on the spiritual path.

Asana can help minimize pain and build resilience.

Often, though, we attempt to fill our emptiness with superficial things. We try to be perfect, to look perfect, to have the right car or the right job, to put the house in the perfect order, to be the person we think others want us to be or to spiritually bypass how crappy we feel and “rise above” the discomfort by avoiding it altogether.

Of course we know all those outer trappings don’t make us happy or fulfilled. These external attempts don’t work and sometimes jealousy can arise. We think others look like they have it together. Or they are better than us. We want what they have.

My friend Sarah being present with the dark AND the light…

When we’re in that human cycle of heaviness, loneliness, unworthiness, we can look for help in the alternative translations of asteya: abiding in gratitude or being generous.

Shift perspective to see the good we DO have. Offer kindness to another and be happy for their successes.

More importantly, find the deeper parts of ourselves that already feel whole and complete, despite the simultaneous existence of those parts that feel broken.

Yoga is a “this and” system, not an “either or,” which brings us to our next yama.

Aparigraha : non-attachment

I see many opportunities to practice aparigraha when I communicate with people who believe differently than I.

Living with such diversity is, itself, a “this and” reality where many beliefs and values happen at once.

Its easy to respond with outrage and anger when someone has a wildly different perspective on things like politics, women’s rights, immigration, black lives matter.

But inflammatory interactions aren’t healthy ways to communicate. Finding common ground hasn’t worked to resolve our differences either.

Civil discourse, according to Frances Kissling in her interview with Krista Tippet of On Being, is not about finding common ground. Instead, its about being able to be open to the good in another and to understand why the other believes what they do, without giving up our own values.

Aparigraha is about letting go of our attachment to being right. Its about not clinging to our stories as the only ones. Its not about trying to convince someone of our stance. Its also not about giving up on ourselves or our beliefs.

Practicing aparigraha means we have a chance to meet each other in a more peaceful and productive way, practicing softening our defensiveness and need to be right.

We actually strengthen our sense of self and clarify our values while also opening our minds to understanding something or someone different. These are the traits of the modern day warrior!

We can look to the things of real value —people and experiences— instead of consuming more or coveting what someone else has. Take a listen to this live version of ’If I Ain’t Got You‘ by Alicia Keyes for some inspiration.

As a recovering perfectionist, I’ve found aparigraha requires me to be less attached to outcome, less in control. I’ve always been able to talk to anyone, about anything, but its made me more open to sharing my perspectives and my true self, instead of just being there for another.

These yamas have helped me know myself better, and feel more secure in myself. They’ve helped me be happier with what I have, which, ironically, allows me to need less and give more to others.

Here’s a ~25 minute yoga practice I recorded with aparigraha as the theme. It is not perfect. The lighting isn’t great, the sound could be better. But I guess that’s kind of the point… I hope you enjoy it.