I’ve finally begun a longtime dream of mine: training to be a yoga teacher. The 420-hour course I am on will run throughout an eleven-month period. It is held on Sundays, which allows me to keep living my life without stopping everything, as well as letting me learn the content more slowly with an opportunity to process it between each class. It’s excellent – it’s the course I’d been looking for and waiting for.
Without getting too preachy: yoga is so much more than just physical exercise and that’s part of what I’d like to convey here. My intention is not to create a “yoga blog,” but to introduce some of its concepts that intertwine into daily life. To keep my post as simple as possible, I am barely skimming the surface of some really fascinating history and philosophy, but providing only the absolutely necessary background information.
Yoga is not a religion, but within its history and teachings is a clear basis of attitudes and behaviors to strive for in your daily life (known as the Yamas and Niyamas from Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras). It’s the yogi’s version of the Ten Commandments, except that they are not as black and white. They are practices that might fit into each person’s life a little bit differently, but are there as a means of freeing yourself from the common reasons we experience suffering.
One of the five Yamas is called Asteya, which translates to “nonstealing.” The idea can be read quite literally – a person shouldn’t take something that isn’t theirs. However, it can also be viewed in less tangible terms: don’t take what isn’t freely given. Don’t steal people’s time, don’t steal their energy, don’t steal someone’s idea. What is “stealing” is much more subtle in these non-physical terms.
In my class, we’ve learned that stealing comes from a feeling of scarcity – like there isn’t enough for everyone to go around. The attitude of Asteya, or nonstealing, comes from a place of abundance. It is the act of taking just your share and letting everyone else have theirs too. This isn’t to say you can’t take any time or energy from other people – just that you should notice if you’re taking more than they are and pay attention to if they want to be giving their energy to it (or if you’re forcing them to).
Very quickly, I became interested in trying to identify where I steal and trying to stop doing it. But I became equally fascinated when I identified moments or situations in which I allow myself to be stolen from. I have spent the last month noticing things through this lens: Is this more than my share? Are they taking more than their share? And most importantly, who is responsible for this theft?
Do you always pick up the first round of drinks at a bar and, by the time it’s your friends’ turn, they leave without ever returning the favor? You probably feel like they have stolen your money or taken advantage of you. But you want to be nice and get the night started on a high note, so you keep doing it, expecting a different result. But it happens again and you, again, feel frustrated. It might be hard to see this, but you are putting yourself in a situation, which allows people to steal from you. To stop this from happening, you can do two things: buy a round with absolutely no expectations to have it returned (ahem, freely given) or don’t keep buying the first round and let someone else do it for once.
Time is stolen so easily, it is sometimes hard to notice. Does someone always call meetings in your office when it could just be a quick conversation? Is someone always telling you about their amazing weekend and never asking about yours? Do you steal people’s time without realizing it?
I did. In my training, I’ve been asked to notice this: when asked a question or to share an experience, am I someone who always wants to share? For me, yes, I am one of those annoying people. When given the chance to notice it, I tried the opposite. It turns out I had been missing other people’s comments of questions when I was thinking of my own. I wondered: Why do I always need to answer? Now when I raise my hand, it’s more purposefully and more consciously. It’s a really small change, but something I’m glad I can see more clearly now.
I observed plenty of stealing in other in-person interactions as well. I worked with a girl who liked attention – positive or negative. It created a negative cycle with the other staff – she would do a bad job, they would be annoyed and give her negative energy back, she would continue doing the bare minimum (or less) to get away from negativity, then there was a new reason to be frustrated with her. I agreed with every complaint I heard about her, but pretty quickly I stopped caring about what annoying thing she had done that day and, instead, noticed the amount of time and energy that this one person was taking (and the others were giving).
I took the opportunity to consciously choose how much energy I gave to her. I tried different approaches – one day I might be standoffish, but she usually responded badly to that and, once even asked if I was “mad at her.” Another day I might try being nice but find that I feel like I am just faking it, which isn’t the tact I wanted to take. I wanted to be kind but authentic. Ultimately, my biggest frustration with this girl wasn’t actually about her at all – it was that I felt like she didn’t give me the option to be myself in interactions with her.
In the end, when I listened to her but didn’t engage too much was when I was able to strike the balance – she was much more productive to work with. I didn’t let her steal much, certainly not as much as she did with the others and I was proud I didn’t lose myself in the drama. After a certain point, the negative energy of others was being given pretty freely. Who was really at fault?
We see this type of conundrum everywhere. The internet is a breeding ground for an attitude of scarcity. It is an endless stream of information, given without context or continuity. In one scroll of a thumb on any form of social media, you might go from seeing a cute Frenchie picture, to a racist quote from Donald Drumpf (his new name), to an inspirational video about a cancer survivor – all back to back. There are seemingly no limits to content now. This can quite easily steal energy or allow for stolen ideas, but it is something we enter into again and again by our own free will.
And we can look from the vast abyss of the internet right to our own homes – when it comes to a romantic relationship, there’s generally one person who takes a bit more than the other. While my stealing isn’t totally overt, in my relationship, I sometimes get a bit nitpicky and opinionated. It usually happens on days when I’m anxious. My partner and I might be going out for lunch and he’ll ask me which seat at the table I’d like or what kind of food I am in the mood for. If I give him any sort of lukewarm answer to these types of questions, he usually worries that I’m not happy. He’ll start saying things like, “Do you want to switch? Are you ok? Do you want to go somewhere else?” He is just being kind and loving and picking up on the weird energy I’m putting out there. I appreciate it, but I’ve noticed that it doesn’t help.
I have told Mike before that I don’t want to become a high maintenance girlfriend. It’s really important to me that I’m not one of those significant others who’s bossy and demanding and disregards his feelings about things, even the small stuff. These lines of questioning give me license to be choosy. And they give me the opportunity to set opinions on things I never cared about to begin with. I used to let it happen and go along with it. But after a little while I noticed that I was getting more opinionated and he was leaving things up to me, sacrificing what he might have wanted. It was becoming a habit that left things out of balance.
One day I finally said to him: “Stop allowing me to be high maintenance! I don’t have an opinion on that and I don’t want to have one. Trust that if I have a feeling about something, I will be up front about it.” And in his defense, all he was doing was reading my mood and trying to help. Since then, we’ve both gotten better about it. Now if I notice he is allowing me to take up his energy I’ll say, “Stop fussing over me!” and he will stop. I think this is a pretty normal thing that can happen in a relationship. Sometimes it takes noticing your significant other giving too much to realize you’re taking too much.
Now that I’ve noticed myself and others stealing left and right I’ve wondered: what if we all were able to do things from a place of abundance? How would life be different?
The few ways I’ve been able to incorporate Asteya into my thinking have enriched my life so far. It’s with an attitude of abundance that I can finally notice where I have been so freely giving my energy, time, space, or money away and make some changes. And it’s become obvious that getting involved is my own choice.
Even though allowing for stealing may seem like the generous or efficient thing to do, perhaps it isn’t always necessary. It may be degrading your life in seemingly small ways, but they might total to a larger theft. Sometimes having limits is a good thing – I am developing my own and I hope others will do the same. That way, there will be plenty for all of us.