March 2021: The Yamas (continued)

Week 1

2.37: asteya-pratisthayam sarva-ratnopasthanam
For those who have no inclination to steal, the truly precious is at hand.

From The Art of Living:

“Asteya literally means non-stealing. But at the deepest level, Asteya means abandoning the very intent or desire to possess or steal anything—whether it is material, a talent, a relationship, a gift, achievement, success, time, or natural resources—that primarily does not belong to you, through force or deceit or exploitation, by deeds or words or thoughts. The urge to steal in this way arises out of greed, a sense of lack, powerlessness, and comparing ourselves to others. When these underlying seeds of asteya are addressed and eliminated, the virtue of asteya becomes established in us (Shah, 2020).”

If you haven’t noticed already, a pattern has begun to emerge within the yamas, where each observance goes against many of our instincts to do anything in our power to cling onto worldly possessions. At times, these concepts may seem hard to grasp. Many will notice the irony in doing no harm, living with honesty, and not stealing when much of what our society is built on a renunciation of all of the above.

I don’t know about you, but when I revisit the yamas, a cynical Lara comes to visit momentarily that whispers, look how far they’ve gotten you, delicately in my mind. But before the thought even finishes, my heart responds, they’ve moved mountains.

And at the end of the day, how far has ignorance gotten us as a society? Not. Too. Far.

I was going to use a different story to connect with the teachings of asteya until I came upon some excellent insight during my asana and pranayama practice today. I decided to spend most of the day with my phone out of reach and in turn, did many things I don’t usually do: took a footbath and gave myself a manicure/pedicure, read, danced, and still had time for my yoga practice. It made me realize how much time I steal from myself with the consistent unproductive use of my phone.

Technology is incredible and allows us access to information and connection to others that we wouldn’t have otherwise. It’s rapid growth over the years left us unable to keep up psychologically, and it seems we’ve been unconscious to the ramifications of always being online.

In other words, technology has become a part of every minute of our lives and most of us have little boundaries with regard to usage. I know, I know: there are individuals out there who have been very aware of the shift and have a good handle on their tech use, but many of us do not. And we either know it or are ignorant of it.

Have you stolen time from yourself in this way?
Is the “doom scroll” and “mindless scroll” part of your phone usage?

Don’t sweat it – a lot of us are there. If you’ve been reading these blogs long enough you’ll know that I can pair that with saying, knowing is half of the battle!

Think about what you can accomplish if you set boundaries with your tech use. Perhaps, you’d add a little more time and value to your day. Even more, you give yourself the space to allow for choices, rather than mindless actions. The more aware we are of our behaviors, the more we are able to decide how we spend our time.

As you can see, asteya isn’t just about stealing material objects. Time, resources, and energy are all just as important as materials, and requires a gentle ego-check regardless of what is being stolen. Though the yamas are a deeply personal practice, the fruits of their honor extend outward to the collective consciousness. Instead of being consumed with the “I/me/my” mentality, take the time to inquire about how you can lift up others.

Give credit where it’s due.
Find ways to raise the words and ideas of under-represented communities.
Value yours and other people’s time.
Honor the practices that you’ve learned from other cultures and share their origins appropriately, especially if you’re financially benefiting from them.

This is not meant to be a perfect process. It’s a beautiful entanglement of imperfection and insight that allows us to value the benefit of all beings: exactly as it’s meant to be.

The more we make peace with our humanity and take care of ourselves and others, the more we are given exactly what we need. Today, I gained the ability to actively show myself love just by practicing asteya and can see very clearly that Patanjali is right: For those who have no inclination to steal, the truly precious is at hand.

Reflection: Recall a time when you prioritized asteya, when you could have benefitted from the opposite. How did your actions benefit someone else? How far did your actions benefit the collective?

Resources and References:

Shah, Sejal (2020). The Third Yama, Asteya in Daily Life: 5 Unusual Ways You’re Stealing. Retrieved on February 24, 2021 from https://www.artofliving.org/us-en/5-surprising-ways-you-are-stealing-asteya-in-daily-life

The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali: Sanskrit-English Translation & Glossary by Chip Hartranft

Week 2

2.38: brahmacarya-pratisthayam virya-labhah

The chaste acquire vitality.

Many texts and teachings use brahmacharya to describe the purposeful avoidance of sexual desires: “An established celibate will not feel any difference in touching the opposite sex, a piece of paper, a block of wood, or a piece of stone.” (Sri Swami Sivananda, 2001). 

Similar practices of restraint are meant to increase vitality, including Vajroli Mudra, from the Hatha Yoga Pradipika. “[Vajroli Mudra] is meant to improve the health of the reproductive system and requires the yogi to preserve his semen” (Raghuram and Manasa, n.d.). These practices are said to have physical benefits, including improving digestion, as well as energetic benefits for balancing the chakra system.

When we zoom out to view the practice of brahmacharya in a broader sense, we begin to notice there is a much larger lesson than simply controlling our sexual urges for health. 

The first thing that comes to mind is the old saying about how too much of anything isn’t good for anyone.

When I read Desikachar’s interpretation, it was like two bells rang at once:

“Nothing is wasted by us if we seek to develop moderation in all things. Too much of anything brings problems. Too little may be inadequate.”

From the most basic perspective, think about something as simple as water. Water is great for us. Hello, hydration! But we all know there’s a goldilocks area on the water intake spectrum that allows us to be nourished by the water, rather than the water posing a danger to our system from either too much or too little.

It’s another lesson in finding balance in everything we do in our lives. In fact, it’s a way of working with raga, the klesha of attachment. When we like something, there’s a chance we may want to hold onto it or devote so much time and energy to it that we lose awareness of other aspects of our lives.

And for good reason! We like something because it makes us happy. We get a taste of that happiness and latch on to stay in the feel-good. 

But we know life isn’t about just feeling good. No matter how much we cling to the good, being human means we cannot escape pain.  If we only made space for pleasantry and desire, we would lose out on valuable lessons that come from sitting with the unpleasant. And we need those lessons.

Similarly, we tend to make desire synonymous with happiness and that leads us into the spiraling of the “if onlys.”

If only I looked like _______.
If only I had ________.
If only they were ________.

The word “if” implies something that could be or would have been. Use it too much, and those “ifs” take us so far away from the present that they’re useless to us in the long run. It can keep us in a disconnected state of being and create feelings of inadequacy and less-than, which as we should know by now, we are neither.

When we’re actually practicing brahmacharya, truly seeking moderation in our lives, we are living in the present. We are content with what is, make room for the pleasant and unpleasant, and learn to hold them both at the same time.

And regardless if something is pleasant or not, it doesn’t take away from your wholeness. Let’s end there this week and gently remind ourselves: I am whole and complete in my existence.

Reflection: Try to spend a day paying attention to your thoughts, and every time you find yourself in an “if only,” write it down. See how that “if only” makes you feel. If there are any feelings of disconnect, find a grounding posture (such as a seated pose or balasana (child’s pose)) and remind yourself that you are complete in that moment.

Resources and References:

Raghuram Y.S. MD (Ay) and Manasa, B.A.M.S (n.d.). Vajroli Mudra – Meaning, Procedure, Benefits. Retrieved on March 6, 2021 from https://www.easyayurveda.com/2020/05/08/vajroli-mudra/#benefits

Swami Sivananda. (2001). Practice of Brahmacharya. Divine Life Society. ISBN-10 : 8170520673

The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali: Sanskrit-English Translation & Glossary by Chip Hartranft

Week 3

2.39: aparigraha-sthairye janma-kathanta-sambodhah
Freedom from wanting unlocks the real purpose of existence

From the World Heritage Encyclopedia:

“The virtue of aparigraha means taking what is truly necessary and no more. In Yoga school of Hinduism, this concept of virtue has also been translated as “abstaining from accepting gifts”,[6] “not expecting, asking or accepting inappropriate gifts from any person”, and “not applying for gifts which are not to be accepted”.[7] The concept includes in its scope non-covetousness,[8] and non-possessiveness.[9] Taylor states, aparigraha includes the psychological state of “letting go and the releasing of control, transgressions, fears” and living a content life unfettered by anxieties.[10]”

Aparigraha’s message resonates in a similar fashion to brahmacharya as another stepping stone towards the practice of non-attachment. It can be a difficult practice for the modern Western person, as we live in an attention economy that is constantly improving its psychological tactics to keep us engaged with buying, spending, and always seeking that “next big thing.”

It’s no secret that companies pay big money to seduce our eyes to their ads. They use our behavior patterns and search history to match us with items and services we’d be interested in. And if you use any sort of social media, you know those ads will sit in our feeds for months, poking and prodding at our minds until we decide to click “Learn More.”

Over time, many of the things we buy end up collecting dust somewhere in our homes. We have our “junk drawers,” large collections of cable wires, clothes with the tags still on them from 5 years ago (guilty), and papers galore. And for some reason, many of us have a difficult time letting go of those things.

But why?

Why do we hold onto things we don’t use or need?

That question gets heavier the longer I stare at it and the words, Taking what is truly necessary and no more, continue to repeat gently in my mind.

It isn’t just about the tangible things in our lives. Aparigraha is the art of letting go of everything that does not serve us physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. As we know, it’s easier said than done: we can’t control everything that happens to us, and after all, we’re only human. Things like fear, doubt, and shame can very well show up on our journey, but we have the choice of whether or not they are allowed to stay.

That’s the practice: releasing control of what we cannot, and making the best choices we can along the way. And just like those junk drawers, we have to declutter the more subtle aspects of our life experience from time to time. I’m taking the week of the equinox as a time to do some “spring cleaning” in all facets of my life (including actual clutter!) and looking forward to giving myself some extra care and attention. Just as kriyas are cleansing practices for the body, perhaps we can allow the practice of aparigraha to cleanse our gross and subtle environments. Create space for more prana; make room for true joy.

“It’s the secret to happiness, you know. Only take what you need.” – Adriana Trigiani

Reflection: What aspects of your life (material or otherwise) do you have a hard time letting go of? What is easily able to be discarded? Have you been working on this yama before you knew it was a yama?

Resources and References:

Aparagraha. (no date). World Heritage Encyclopedia Edition. Retrieved on March 5, 2021 from http://self.gutenberg.org/articles/eng/Aparigraha

The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali: Sanskrit-English Translation & Glossary by Chip Hartranft

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