I finish my rocket practice: every cell and muscle fiber vibrates within my body. Now, it is time to eat (another one of my favorite activities). I take a deep round of breath before I enter the kitchen. I have gotten over the cold showers, the nonexistent water pressure and attempted to make friends with the ants. However, in the spirit of Satya, I confess: I hate this alfresco, communal kitchen with its leaky sink, disgusting refrigerator, and poorly washed/often unavailable supply of cutlery. I prepare an iodine bath for my vegetables: I meditate while the vegetables cleanse. Finally, it is time to eat. I chop up the vegetables, and the avocado. I bend down to take a can of tuna from my stash…only to discover: my collection of tuna is gone! Why did someone steal my tuna? That person KNEW it wasn’t his or her food to eat. I REMEMBER buying it yesterday from the corner store and storing it on this little shelf. Now, I have to walk ten minutes in this blazing, winter heat to buy more fish at the corner store. I am already running behind schedule today. Who steals tuna?
It is ten fifteen in the morning, and I already morphed from calm yogi into this monster. I take a deep breath. I remind myself: I can in fact afford to buy three or four more cans of tuna. Maybe that person needs the food more than I do. And just maybe, I need to write about Asteya.
Oh, I never steal. I confess: I most certainly have stolen from others! When I ran out of almond milk at my previous house, I stole a couple drop’s from my housemate’s container. It’s just a couple drops, but did I ask her? I also, occasionally stole sponges from my office. Why, I don’t know. I feel like I wasn’t paid enough? I feel like the office would not miss a sponge or two from the costco pack?
Our personal psychology is fascinating. All the time, we justify the sneaky things that we do. Especially, if there is no one around to watch us! Our little transgressions do not warrant as deviations from our strict, moral code. It was okay: it was just that one time: I deserved it.
Maybe, you did.
But maybe, you find yourself thinking about that incident later during the day. You feel guilty, and out of sorts. You recognize that your behavior or action, no matter how trivial, misaligned with your morals, your beliefs, and yourSelf. You feel agitated, anxious, or angry, because you created a separation between yourself and yourSELF.
It’s easier to see Asteya through the eyes of tangible transactions. However, most of us struggle with asteya in more nuanced ways. As a yoga instructor, are you present when you teach classes? Or is your mind lost in thoughts and scenarios. Do you walk around the room and adjust students? Or are you on your mat the entire time, trying to fit in your personal workout? Do you guide with purpose? Or do you fumble with your music absentmindedly while narrating the instruction in autopilot? One summer, I distinctly remember: Larry removed the stereo at It’s Yoga in San Francisco.
“No more Music!” He exclaimed exasperatedly. ” You need to focus on teaching the class, not playing deejay!”
Off the mat, out of the classroom, and outside of material possessions, how else do we struggle with asteya?
Your coworker or housemate looks visibly distressed. He or she hasn’t said anything to you, but you don’t want to go there. You are exhausted, crabby and time-strapped. You do not have the energy to deal with someone else and his or her problems.
But, you don’t realize your fault in this situation. You are stealing, but not offering what someone else lacks. You are in your safe world: huddled in your headphones looking at your phone. You could peel off your headphones and listen. Maybe all this person requires is: your ears, your smile, your attention. You underestimate your power in this situation. You are stealing, by not offering your presence to this person in need.
We seek union, with ourselves: with each other: with our interpretation of the divine. But, with this union comes profound responsibility. We decide when we want to schedule our asana practices. When is it most convenient for you to practice: early in the morning or after work at night? But, we do not get to pick and choose when we practice yoga off of the mat. We are not excused from observing the yamas, between the hours of ten am and three pm. Even when there are no witness, we are not exempt from practicing Satya . No matter what the time of day or circumstance may be: it is always our responsibility to serve those who are suffering. This a practice of love.
“We do this practice to love ourselves so we can love others more.”
This article is the 3rd entry in the blog series covering the traditional 8 limbs of yoga, written for It’s Yoga International. For an introduction to the series, please visit, “Intro to the 8 limbs.” The author, Randee Schwartz, shares her own personal journey as a yogi and what it means to stay true to her own path. She’s currently living in Mexico and supporting the It’s Yoga International family with her creative writing skills.