Most Generous – Asteya

Asteya – one of the five Yamas (wise characteristics) of the eight limbs of yoga as defined by Patanjali, author of the Yoga Sutras. It’s translation: non stealing. But what does that mean?

Nischala Joy Devi lends a feminine view to the definition and practice of Asteya in her book “The Secret Power of Yoga: A woman’s Guide to the Heart and Spirit of the Yoga Sutras”, wherein she characterizes asteya as “honesty,” “generosity,” or “integrity.”

Aadil Palkhivala offers ways to practice Asteya in asana practice. Asteya, or “not stealing,” refers to the stealing that grows from believing we cannot create what we need. We steal because we misperceive the universe as lacking abundance or we think that there is not enough for everyone and that we will not receive in proportion to our giving. Because of this, asteya does not only consist of “not stealing,” but also of rooting out the subconscious beliefs of lack and scarcity that cause greed and hoarding in all their various manifestations.

Growing up the 3rd child in a household of 7 plus the caboose, who came when I reached college age, I know all about not having enough…or at least thinking that way. “I don’t have what she has” and the whole fairness between siblings was a common thread of thought for me. My comfort level with feeling lack or dealing with lack was heavily weighted from my early childhood. I’ve come to realize that I lacked nothing as a child. Most of it was my perception of what I didn’t have compared to others. Of course I never compared myself to anyone who lacked more than I. So I ensured that I would come out on the short end of the stick and be able to validate my feelings of not having enough. All grown up now, that game does not serve me in anything I do. But how to uproot it?

Aadil Palkhivala suggests in yoga practice to trust that each pose gives the energy required to do it. When students hold back in a posture, or when they don’t work to their full capacity, they may fear that there is not going to be enough energy to do the next pose. It is only when we persist in feeling a lack of abundance that we hold back and do not put our whole selves into every pose (or every moment of our lives for that matter).

Looking at what I don’t have blinds me to what I do have. I love the wayDonna Farhi sums it up in her book Yoga Mind, Body & Spirit:

In constantly looking outside ourselves for satisfaction, we are less able to appreciate the abundance that already exists. That is what really matters—our health and the riches of our inner life and the joy and love we are able to give and receive from others. It becomes difficult to appreciate that we have hot running water when all we can think about is whether our towels are color-coordinated. How can we appreciate our good fortune in having enough food to eat when we wish we could afford to eat out more often?”

 “The practice of asteya asks us to be careful not to take anything that has not been freely given.”

Like keeping someone on the phone for longer than is necessary…you are stealing their time. “The paradox of practicing asteya is that when we relate to others from the vantage point of abundance rather than neediness, we find that others are more generous with us and that life’s real treasures begin to flow our way.” Easy to say, hard to do…for me at least. When I am anxious over an unmet deadline or feel overwhelmed with my schedule it’s not always easy to look inside myself for the problem. I am coming from a place of lack; lack of time, lack of commitment, lack of communication, etc. the solution is to turn it around. Focus on the task at hand and commit to a finished product. Communicate what I want from others in a way that both motivates and inspires so the project comes to fruition. Sometimes I have to give up my grasp on getting the job done a particular way in lei of getting it done at all.

Not stealing demands that we cultivate a certain level of self-sufficiency so that we do not demand more of others, our family, or our community than we need. It means that we don’t take any more than we need, because that would be taking from others.” ~ Donna Farhi

At night I write in a journal and list my accomplishments for the day. I thencelebrate all that I’ve done! Rather than dwell on what I didn’t have time for (lack mentality). This puts me in a mood to move on to the next day with a feeling of accomplishment, satisfaction and abundance. I am more creative and get up earlier. It’s funny that when we focus on what we DO have we get more wealth and abundance coming our way.

Photo: Jon Wick

I have a friend who is the epitome of abundant thinking. Raising 4 active boys on meager means and working to help pay bills, my friend always seemed to have enough. I was amazed at how much happiness she found in her life. I began to study her habits…she NEVER complained, in fact, she was frequently commenting on how lucky she was. I know her family lived on less income than mine yet she seemed to live a more abundant lifestyle. While I complained about having to work full time, make dinner, do homework with the kids, go to bed exhausted she seemed happy to have what she had. And she was always getting invited to go to special places. People asked her family to go on trips – to Hawaii, Lake Powell, etc. Her appreciation for life rubbed off on everyone around her including her family. All great skiers, her second son competed in the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics as a downhill racer – and will most likely compete in the 2014 Olympics too. Great lesson.

Bottom line for me – there is always something to be grateful for…always someone who has more than I do. My happiness depends on which side I dwell on.

What are you grateful for? How do you practice Asteya? I’d love to hear your feedback. Leave a comment below!

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