The third of the Yamas (see previous Yoga philosophy blog posts if you're already lost) is that of Asteya, which is translated as non-stealing. As with a lot of these 'restraints', they seem something that most of us do already. I don't know about you, but since my teenage days left me, I've been pretty good at not stealing. I even usually give back extra change if a cashier makes a mistake (yup, I should be made a saint).
If you've been following the blogs about the Yamas you'll know that they're never that simple. Non-stealing moves beyond just the material. Think about stealing time, privacy and thoughts. Can you say you don't steal people's time now and then? Is having an extra 5 minutes snoozing in bed stealing your own time? Driving past a car crash and having that urge to give it a little look; is that stealing someone's privacy? And we all steal each other's thoughts. If we credit the other person each time then it wouldn't be stealing, but do we do that? I'm sure when I teach something I've seen another teacher do I don't always credit them. 'This one is a Joseph Pilates original, Anula Maiberg taught this first, this is a take of something Trina Altman taught.' I would really love to do that, but it's not all that practical.
There is also stealing from Mother Earth. The idea of Asteya is to put back in nature what one uses, but how hard is that going to be in Western Culture? As soon as I turn the ignition on my car that's going to be pretty tough without planting numerous trees. In fact, I'm guessing that the UK hasn't got enough space for us to all plant the amount of trees it would take to offset the burning of fossil fuels from driving our cars.
The notion is that stealing arises from thoughts of lack or fear, and that is quite probably true. I drive my car to jobs because I think I won't have enough money for my flat otherwise. The Yamas of non-stealing is actually the practice of gratitude and realisation of abundance. If you are grateful for what you have you don't need anything more. If you realise that the World is abundant you know that everything you need is there. The two practices are one. You may recognise these from a lot of self-help and spirituality books. They're not just found in Yoga.
What I try to teach my students to do is question everything. Question this too. In the class I taught about Asteya I asked 'is the practice of gratitude really that healthy?' I only hinted and my opinion on this to provoke some thought as it's not my place to express my opinion fully. Here is though! There is a lot of research showing that it is, and how it changes the state of our brain, building new neural pathways to positive emotions. Great! But I think you can NEVER have a hard a fast rule. Adhering truly to Asteya is partly what helped in people not questioning abuse within Yoga. The practice means being grateful for EVERYTHING including the negative experiences. 'They are there to give us lessons' is what spirituality teaches. This is severely dangerous! I cannot stress that enough. It is akin to the dangers I see in the 'positivity' movement which I wrote about here. Yes of course we take lessons and grow from negative experiences, but we should not put up with them if they are in our control. I would suggest the Asteya on a deeper level actually teaches us that we should.
This is why we should question everything. There is beauty to be found in the texts, and the suggestions they make are really useful life tools. But I suggest seeing them as just that. Tools that you use, but you wouldn't use a spanner to undo a screw. There's a time and a place for all of these things. The notion of Asteya stems from a place of love for all, which is a wonderful thing. But remember that 'all' also includes a love for yourself.