When it came to practicing the third yama, asteya, I used to think, “Oh, I don’t steal! I’m good on this one!” Easy. Check.
Well, I was put in my place by my teachers Shankarji and Kabirji, two renunciate yoga masters at the Maitreya School in Bihar. I was studying for my Master’s degree in India and working as an educational consultant at the school. I was there to teach teachers, but I learned so much from these two renunciate yoga masters who were part of Maitreya school’s board. They both laughed kindly at me when I told them I didn’t struggle with this yama at all. And then each gently shared their stories and experiences that helped open my awareness that there are many layers to asteya—and many ways to practice it.
Is it wrong to want things?
The practice of asteya isn’t only about not taking things from others. It is also related to addressing the human condition of craving—the desire for more to fill a sense of lack. It’s natural want things, but falling into a state of perpetual craving often steals the joy of what we do have in the moment. Modern culture sends the message that we are not enough just as we are. Asteya challenges us to see that we have enough, despite all the messaging of lack that is part of the society we live in.
Though so much—outside as well as inside us—may tell us we don’t have enough, yoga teaches that we have everything we need and that we are good just as we are. It is an abundance practice that invites a profound shift in perspective from “what am I missing” to “what can I appreciate?” Asteya is practicing with the awareness you have everything you need.
Swami Satchidananda translates this sutra as “To one established in non-stealing, all wealth comes.” What a powerful teaching for those of us living in a capitalist system, or any system that places worth on how much we can produce, consume, and extract. There’s so much hope that comes with knowing that, by living appropriately, I’ll have what I need spiritually.
What will it feel like when I have enough?
A few years ago, I was living in a modest house with my kiddo and my partner. Relying on an English teacher’s salary, we often struggled to make decisions like whether to fix a broken appliance or get fresh organic food for the household. I wrote myself a note and placed it on the bookshelf by the door so I’d see it every time I entered or left my house. It said: “I have enough.” It was a reminder of the abundance that asteya invites us to acknowledge.
I spent a lot of time in a practice of asteya contemplating that note and the concept. For example, when I did this abundance practice I had to acknowledge that I had a roof over my head, food in the fridge, and semi-reliable transportation. At the same time, I contemplated that not everyone in our society is as fortunate. This practice is not meant to tell people who are in need to just visualize or manifest more. It is for those of us who do have our basic needs met that this particular “I have enough” practice could be useful for.
How does what I have support my spiritual growth?
I was practicing with this phrase when my grandma, the matriarch in our family, passed away. She grew up as a working-class woman in England, and was an incredible role model—fierce, independent, competitive. Whenever she made any changes to her home, like replacing the 20-year-old carpet, she would laugh as she told us grandchildren, “I’m spending your inheritance.” We laughed with her; we loved her and we were happy for her to get whatever she needed. Though she didn’t have much, she still saved enough to leave something to us. I received about $1500 from her—a huge windfall for me when I was living paycheck to paycheck.
When I received the money, I immediately started to think of what I might buy. And then I saw my note: “I have enough.” It reminded me that when I make big decisions, I always come back to this question: “How will this support my or others’ spiritual growth?”
Immediately, I knew the best use of that windfall. We had been wanting to go on family retreats at our local practice center. Spending that precious gift on material things would amount to stealing from the opportunity to deepen our spiritual growth. Instead, I made a choice that supported my and my family’s collective growth. We used the money to go on a meditation and yoga retreat that year.
Why I am grateful
As I continued to contemplate my “I have enough” note, asteya started to become a practice of spiritual generosity connected directly to gratitude. By not “stealing” my experience of joy in the present moment, I could turn my mind to what I was grateful for in the here and now.
How might you apply asteya personally and culturally? Can you practice from a place of loving kindness toward yourself and others? Can you envision a place that acknowledges your strengths and assets, rather than focusing on what you might lack? What would support your and others’ spiritual, personal, emotional growth? Where might you be stealing from your highest intentions in life? You might explore these questions yourself. And even, if appropriate, try on the contemplation, “I have enough.”
The practice of asteya is powerful and deep; it can transform us as it transforms our yoga practice and culture.
I have everything I need right here, inside of myself. I embody asteya, non-stealing, by honoring what belongs to others and celebrating what I have. An internal sense of abundance gives rise to confidence that I have everything I need right here, inside of myself. I am aware of how much I have. I cultivate a deep satisfaction with life. I will do my best to be mindful of my consumption and not to consume from a sense of lack or fear. I live from abundance and search within for whatever I need. I will practice coming back to the present moment to be in the presence of the miracles all around me and to connect with all that is.
About our contributor
Susanna Barkataki is the founder of Ignite Institute for Yogic Leadership and Social Change. She helps yoga teachers, studios, nonprofits, and businesses become leaders in equity, diversity, and yogic values so that they embody thriving yoga leadership with integrity and confidence. Learn more and get the Honor Yoga Manifesto at susannabarkataki.com.