Yoga and the Practice of Generosity

By Laura Hansen.

Prior to the practice of Asana, are the practices of the Yamas and Niyamas which serve as an ethical code and foundation for the practice of yoga (Patanjali, 1999). These are moral ideals to strive for and the idea is improve the practice of these disciplines. The third yama is Asteya (literally non-stealing) or generosity.

relaxing childs pose

In the purest sense, Asteya means not taking or using anything that you do not need. A pure practitioner would not possess more clothing than necessary or eat more food than necessary. Asteya also means not stealing time, attention or other non-material things. Fishing for compliments, for example, would be asking for things that are not needed. The ego may want to hear compliments but it is not required for maintaining the body.

As with the other yamas, the practice of non-stealing can begin with the practice of yoga. Asteya, like all the other yamas, begins in the mind. A mind that is fearful or anxious is likely to cause stealing behavior. When we are concerned that our needs will not be met our fear and anxiety promote unhealthy thoughts towards ourselves and others which manifest in unhealthy behaviors like clinging and hoarding. Some suggestions for beginning the practice of Asteya:

  1. Listen to your thoughts about and during your yoga practice. See if you hear any fearful thoughts such as, “oh no, I can’t do that posture,” or “I’m not up to yoga today.” When you hear these sort of thoughts, try to let go of them. Believe that you have all the energy you need for today.
  2. Notice your thinking about your mat, your spot, your space, and see where greed crops up. For example, I have a specific space I am attached to in one yoga room. I try to get to class early so I can get my spot because I am fearful of being in front or being crowded. I could let go of that fear and trust that I will have the space I need for my practice.
  3. During your yoga practice, don’t become attached to certain postures. Refrain from hot-dogging or stealing attention.
  4. Don’t concern yourself with having the best yoga mat or yoga gear. Use only what you need for the practice.

Once you begin to familiarize yourself with this practice, you might consider taking Asteya home. For most people, this is a challenge. Some ways to begin broadening the practice into the rest of your life include:

  1. Limit the amount of food you consume to what is necessary for your health.
  2. Limit your closet to the clothes that you need and actually use.
  3. Spend more time listening than talking (give rather than take attention).
  4. Examine your cravings. Cravings are different for everyone. One person may crave designer clothes, another person craves fine wine, while another person cannot get enough of the NFL. Whatever you crave, practice stepping back from that craving. Meditate on the craving and try to figure out what need you are trying to meet.

The practice of Asteya or non-stealing is difficult today with so many companies focused on creating consumer desire. Advertisements are ubiquitous and encourage us that we deserve to have everything we have ever wanted. For that reason, it may help to turn off the television and put down magazines for a couple of days (or forever). Asteya is difficult but the benefit is greater contentment and more gratitude for the things we have.


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