Over the last year, I began looking periodically at the yamas and niyamas, sets of guiding principles in yoga on living an ethical life. While both are part of the eight limbs of yoga, one way of differentiating between the two is thinking of the yamas as providing guidance on interacting with others and the world, while the niyamas are more internally focused and how we may treat ourselves.
A few months ago after I began to dive into the yamas, I studied satya (truthfulness), one of the yamas. And asteya follows along that line. Asteya is non-stealing, or not taking from others, which is also a form of truthfulness, no? Honesty in actions and in what’s ours. When hearing non-stealing, the first thing that may come to mind is taking something physical that belongs to someone else. And yes, that is a part of asteya. However, that’s not all there is to it. It’s not just something physical, though that is certainly one form of not taking, but also non-tangible things like time or energy.
In Nicolai Bachman’s The Path of the Yoga Sutras, he gives an example – among several aspects of asteya – of not listening. He writes: “If we interrupt someone during a conversation, we steal their right to be heard.” And I know that this spring, one thing I am trying more to do is to listen.
I hadn’t thought to explore asteya with this particular post in relation to what is happening in the world and in our communities, but as so often seems to be the case with my yoga practice, it turned out to feel like the right time.
But what about gifts, which is receiving something from another? Bachman does spend some time noting that the giving and receiving of gifts is different. It can depend upon the intent behind the gift: is the gift given with the intent to receive something in return or with the intent to give joy to the receiver? The latter is a way of practicing asteya.
That being said, one should be aware of giving too much without receiving in return. Giving too much depletes the ability to continue to give. And this is not counterintuitive. Yes, the intent behind giving is important, but continuing to give and not receiving is depleting. It can lessen one’s energy, which then prevents continuing to give. It’s something I’ve been seeing more of this spring, with online posts about not being able to give from an empty cup. It’s not selfish to take care of one’s self. By doing so, we strengthen our ability to give.
I like that in his book, Bachman uses the interpretation of “not taking from others,” since asteya can represent so much more than taking a physical object. Let’s go back to that idea of listening. I am more aware this year of listening and how I listen. I want to listen and to learn, but with this idea of both giving and receiving, there is also that reminder that this may be my time to listen, but I do also have a voice. To give and receive, there are times to listen and to speak, times to give, and also times to receive. And it goes back to how I treat and respect myself and others.