Asteya, or non-stealing, seems like a pretty straight forward mandate. Don’t take what isn’t ours. However, there are many deeper ways to delve into this teaching.
People steal because they want something they do not have and either believe it’s not something they have the ability to attain or they believe it’s not something they want to work hard enough to earn.
We can steal from ourselves, from others and as teachers from those we teach.
One of the things that I have noticed I frequently steal from myself is time. Our time on our yoga mat is a time to be relaxed and un-rushed to teach us to be “in the moment”.
In order to truly appreciate where my body is and the lessons that our practice is teaching, it is crucial that I learn to slow down and eliminate distractions. If I am ever frantic or stressed about getting to yoga on time I may carry that into practice and not be fully present. Instead, when possible allowing some leisurely preparation time ensures that when class begins I am ready to embrace it. It also allows me to move through practice without sacrificing breath. I am also frequently concerned with how my postures “should look” instead of how they feel in my body. When I compare where I am to those around me, I am stealing from my own potential. It is important to recognize that the way our bodies fit into the poses is good enough. When I eliminate the distraction of how my body compares to others around me, I drop the struggle to achieve the perfect posture. Being greedy and pushing my body past its edge also robs me of stability and ease and can impact the foundation of the pose. There is more chance of injury instead of a healthy challenge.
It is also possible to steal from others. For the same reason punctuality is important to one’s individual practice, it is important to recognize the yoga class as a sacred space for those practicing around you. For many students, this may be the one hour in the day or week where they can truly focus on themselves. Arriving late for class, interrupting the class with bathroom breaks, etc. can be big distractions for those around me. This would be stealing from their time.
When we consider the emotions that lead to stealing from others we might come up with jealousy, envy or greed. Allowing myself to be distracted by others’ abilities and wishing I could do the same can diminish appreciation for our differences. Instead of one-upmanship and trying to push my own practice to mirror others, I have pride in my fellow yogis and where they are on their journey. Pretending to be something I am not takes away from my uniqueness and vulnerability. Not allowing others to see this robs them of a true relationship with me.
As a teacher I must also come from a place of honest intention so I’m not cheating my students out of a meaningful practice. First, it is important that I am completely committed and have a steady practice of my own so that I can teach from a place of true knowledge. I must also focus on what I know well instead of trying to impress my class with new and different postures. Ongoing education allows me as a teacher to understand changes that are going on in the yoga culture and also provides a knowledge base that allows me to be approachable and easily convey teachings to my classes without resorting to fancy jargon. Ultimately, I take from my students when I am not my authentic self and fail to embody the tenets of yoga on and off the mat.
The concept of non-stealing (Asteya) comes down to being generous. Being giving of my time, my attention, my praise and my knowledge. Generosity allows me to appreciate every person’s imperfections as assets and what makes each individual unique. When I am content with where I am I no longer desire something different.