The Third Yama: Asteya
There are eight limbs on the path of Ashtanga Yoga. There are five Yamas. The Yamas focus on the relationship we have with the world outside. ‘Asteya’ is the third Yama.
The Yamas are moral codes or guidelines to restrain behaviors that are motivated by grasping, aversion, hatred, and delusion.
In Sanskrit, the root word ‘Steya’ means stealing. Asteya means nonstealing. Asteya is most commonly born from greed, or desiring something that is not rightfully ours.
At the most subtle level, Asteya means letting go of the very need or desire to possess anything that does not belong to us through force, words, or thoughts.
“You should not cause hurt even by a word, a look or a gesture. Tolerance, fortitude, equanimity – these help you to be steady in ahimsa (absence of violence).”Sathya Sai Baba
Examples of Asteya
Asteya includes not stealing both the tangible and intangible. This can be an object, talent, relationship, gift, achievement, time, or natural resource.
Root Forces that Drive Asteya
The desire to steal arises out of greed, a sense of lacking, powerlessness, jealousy, and comparing ourselves to others.
Eliminating the Seeds of Asteya
By first noticing when the seeds of Asteya are arising within us, we can identify and address the root cause. When we practice not acting on these triggers, we can eliminate the desire to ‘take’ something which is not rightfully ours to have.
Practice Asteya in Everyday Life
When you practice active listening, you are fully engaged and immersed in what the other person is saying. When we interrupt or are constantly thinking of how to respond, we are ‘stealing’ someone else’s time and right to be heard.
When one person talks about their accomplishment, another person in their discussion chimes in about how they have either already done that or how they have done something else. This is a form of stealing others’ joy, experience, or accomplishment.
Take Only What You Need
‘Free Plants!’ An ad pops up on Marketplace or NextDoor welcoming the community to stop by and gather free plants. When you get there, you see a sign that says, “Grab what you need and leave the rest.” If we take more than we need, in any area of our lives, we are stealing from others.
Ahimsa isn’t meant as a way to punish yourself for these habits but to help us become more aware and practice adjusting how we interact with the outside world.
Simple Exercise to Practice Ahimsa
- Think of one person in your life that you love dearly, someone you interact with often. Choose that one person to practice this Ahimsa exercise with. You don’t need to let them know that you are doing this practice. This is more a practice of self and how you interact with the outside world.
- To begin, start to become aware of how you might be carrying stress in your everyday life – be it from work, a busy home life, or whatever it might be.
- Notice, as those stresses come in, where you feel that emotion in your body or mind.
- Next, consider what it might feel like to let those stresses go.
- Finally, for a week – make a commitment to recognize anytime you ‘push against’ this loved one. This could be a mannerism, a look, or even a sarcastic or short remark.
- If it feels right – maybe consider this action, whatever it might have been, and verbally recognize your action to your loved one. This does not have to be an ‘I’m sorry’ but simply express to your loved one that you recognize your action and are conscientious.
This practice is not meant to be a penance but rather an act of awareness. Be easy on yourself and don’t beat yourself up if you feel you made a mistake. ‘Ahimsa’ is also no harm against yourself. Be patient and know that just the act of trying and becoming aware is tremendous.