Yoga Off the Mat: Third Yama – Asteya (Non-Stealing)

Posted August 4, 2021
Moving along our journey through the 8 Limbs of Yoga, this post touches on the third yama, asteya – non-stealing.


In case you didn’t catch the other Yoga Off the Mat posts, the yamas are the first of what are referred to as the 8 Limbs of Yoga. I liken the limbs to branches of the yoga tree or more practically, tools in the yoga tool box. The yoga poses are just one of these tools. There are 7 others. The yamas (or restraints) comprise the first limb and contain 5 ethical principles. Each of these carry with them wisdom to help guide us toward better relationships with ourselves, others and the world around us.


I’m still wrapping my mind around the depth of wisdom contained in this one small piece of the yoga philosophy. While stealing in the commonly referenced sense does happen (unfortunately even inside of yoga studios), I believe the subtler, yet more frequent, ways we steal from ourselves, others and the planet collectively do more harm than the occasional theft of items.


Deborah Adele in her book The Yamas and Niyamas, sums up her take on this with the following passage:


“Asteya, or non-stealing, calls us to live with integrity and reciprocity. If we are living in fears and lies, our dissatisfaction with ourselves and our lives leads us to look outward, with a tendency to steal what is not rightfully ours. We steal from others, we steal from the earth, we steal from the future, and we steal from ourselves. We steal from our own opportunity to grow ourselves into the person who has a right to have the life they want.”


The first time I began to take a deeper dive into this notion of non-stealing being more than petty theft was after one of my teacher trainers (the amazing Karen Conley) shared the Roosevelt quote, “Comparison is the thief of joy” in a class. I had an aha moment – as I had never considered that certain states of being could fall under the umbrella of stealing.


Over years of further examination, reading, attending philosophy workshops and heightening my own sense of awareness, the ways in which we take take take from ourselves, others and the world, often without any understanding of what we are doing and why we are doing it, has taken me aback and turned asteya into a pivotal piece of philosophy I find myself consistently working on.


The secret to non-stealing is living a fulfilled life. When you are fulfilled, as the word points to, you are full, you are filled up. There are no voids to fill with titles, objects, expectations, egos, relationships, one upping or living vicariously through another.


When we feel enough, we no longer feel the need to compare ourselves with the Jones’ or the person next to us in a yoga class. When we are content with ourselves, our lives and our relationships, we don’t feel the need to place ridiculous expectations on ourselves or others – expectations that can lead to feelings of burnout, exhaustion, defeat, anxiety, depression. When we feel full in our lives, we don’t need to live through or control the lives of others, stealing from their opportunities to grow and live an authentic life of their own.


Given the rising rates of mental illness in our country, I think it’s worth looking at ourselves to see in what ways we are and in what ways we are not contributing to our own joy and the joy of those around us. Not only could we be stealing from the experience of living a life of authenticity, purpose and happiness, but we could potentially be stealing a piece of physical, mental and emotional well-being.


The promising news is there are several antidotes and accessible ways to lesson comparison, judgment, criticism and a lack of presence in our lives. You can start simply by working on these things during your yoga practice. Strengthening the qualities of acceptance, appreciation and presence inside of you during a class will begin to spill over into your life. You’ll start to notice and feel a difference in how you are with yourself and others (and others will feel it and appreciate it, too!).


-During your practice DO NOT look at your phone or your watch. Every time you do, you steal from your experience on your mat – the precious time you have allotted for self care. The emails and texts can and will wait. BONUS: take this off your mat and go have a device free dinner or better yet, evening with your family. Or a full on meaningful conversation with a loved one where you are 1000% present with them – in body, mind and spirit.


-Anytime you find yourself comparing yourself against someone else or criticizing yourself, stop this mental pattern and recite to yourself something you are grateful for. Practice this in the studio by giving gratitude for what your body CAN do vs. focusing on what it can’t. Actually thank your hamstrings, your core, your shoulders, your breath and all of the great physical gifts and abilities you remain blessed with. BONUS: Practice this outside of the studio by consistently giving congrats for the achievements of those around you PLUS spend a few minutes every evening writing down a few things from your day you are proud of. Be proud of yourself when you show up to class, when you accomplish a lingering to do, when you take a leap of faith and try something new or take a step toward a goal or dream. All of these little steps and wins add up to that feeling of fulfillment.


As one of my favorite artists Trevor Hall sings, “The more you give, the more you live… So open up and live. Let that sweet love come in.”


My wish in this next exciting season of of life is that we also give ourselves and others that extra bit of gratitude, compassion, appreciation and acceptance. It’s been one helluva a year and here we all are – blessed to be here, living this one sacred and precious life. Why would we not life it fully, with our hearts open and our spirits shining? Don’t miss a single moment my friends.


If you want to explore the yamas deeper, check out my online Embodying Yoga Philosophy Series where you’ll be guided through 5 full length practices centered around each of the 5 yamas. Enroll here.


Alissa Rodgers, eRYT500, is a Columbus, OH based yoga and meditation teacher and the founder and co-owner of GoYoga. She’s been practicing yoga for over 17 years and within the past 6 years, has shifted the majority of her practice toward exploring the philosophy and mindfulness aspects of yoga on a deeper level. This has positively impacted her life in many ways and it’s a true gift to get to share these powerful tools of yoga with others! Catch the GoYoga in person and live stream class schedules here.