At the moment I am in the middle of studying an online course delving into the Yamas – the ethical guidelines for how we interact with the external world as introduced in Patanjali’s yoga sutras. It’s been great to study these ethics outside of the traditional text and with a view as to how they relate to everyday life. In the past I viewed the Sutras as a text which was a little inaccessible and perhaps distanced from the life I am leading on and off the mat today. Janet Stone is successfully reminding me that this is very much otherwise the case!
I divert from the main point of this blog: Asteya or non-stealing. Asteya seemed obvious the first time I read it – non-stealing – and I’m thinking well of course I wouldn’t steal from anyone else, it’s not like I’d go into a store and just take something for goodness sake. No, maybe not. But I have come to realise that whilst I would never consider shoplifting, I am pretty damn adept at stealing from no other than myself.
How can this be? When we focus on the sense of lack in our life – which often comes back to the fundamental feeling that we are not quite “enough” as we really truly authentically are – then we can find ourselves trying to fill this void with other ‘stuff’. We maybe buy things we don’t really need, we dominate conversations without realising it (rather than actively listening to what is being said), we spend time on social media at the expense of using the time wisely for more nourishing activities for own soul, when we don’t allow ourselves to get enough sleep and steal from our energy the next day, when we teach the something we haven’t truly experienced for ourself but then give it away….the list goes on.
One of the points that Janet makes that most sticks with me is how we can steal from our own body and our own prana and energy. When we are trying to force ourself into a yoga posture or allow ourself to be in a posture when we know it’s not really right for us. Perhaps we really want to be in that bind, but at the same time the twinge in your shoulder tells you it’s maybe not the right place to be, but you ignore it as hey we are in the bind so this must make me a better yoga practitioner right? When we indulge in this behaviour we are essentially stealing from one part of our body in order to get elsewhere – we are taking more than is being offered by our body and breath. From my personal experience, this is normally to pander to my ego’s desires at the expense of going inwards and feeling deeper what is really going on. Over time I've realised that I can use the poses that on the outside appear more “advanced” to avoid doing the real work on the inside, and when I do I basically short change myself on the depth and delight that my asana practice can bring. In essence I am stealing from my own body and sometimes breath, just so my ego can tick a box off its checklist.
How can we work to sort this out? I use the Forrest Yoga Formula for Change – step one is to catch yourself in the act of self mutilating (which is what this physical self-stealing is) – step one by the way, is the most significant step – it’s rooted in self-awareness – this is crucial but can be really challenging! Step two – congratulate yourself on having caught yourself - acknowledging your good work here is key! Step three – make a decision to change something up. So when I catch myself moving into struggle mode at the detriment of my self in my practice I take a step back. I’ve re-educated myself that down-levelling isn’t taking the lazy route, rather it’s the intelligent pathway to deepening my wisdom of my body and myself. This is definitely a road worth travelling!
Another key theme that has stood out for me is worrying – when we allow ourself to get bogged down in stories about a future that hasn’t happened yet and in a lot of cases will never actually materialise, we steal from both our present and future. The amount of effort and energy that stressing (or indeed fantasising about the future) takes can be enormous – and when we invest our life force or prana into this, we are stealing from having a full authentic experience of what is happening now. We miss all the good stuff that we do have and we don’t allow ourself the opportunity to enjoy it. When we are burning up prana in this way we also create a situation where we don’t have enough energy to enjoy our future – by the time it comes around we are depleted and so once again can’t be fully present to appreciate and soak up the abundance we do have.
In the present world, which lets face it is a social media fest on so many levels, how on earth do we deal we the sense of lack we are so often left with? Whilst it might seem easier to focus on the list of what we don't have, the key shift here is to practice focusing on what we actually do have. When we realize how we are abundant in our life we don’t feel the pull to fill up the void that focusing on not being enough creates. Here are my top personal ways that I use to hone my focus on this:
Gratitude list or Beauty Report – before I go to sleep at night I write down in a little notebook I keep near my bed what I am grateful for. This might be a few things or just one. It can be something as simple as having spent time in nature, or being grateful for fresh food to eat and a warm bed to sleep in, it might be a bigger life event – the key here is to find Beauty in my life (not aesthetic Beauty, but the type of abundance that makes you feel warm and glowy on the inside).
Meditation – sitting still and getting quiet. When I do this I get to appreciate my breath, and the present moment. Nowhere to go, nowhere to be, nothing to do except be fully here, right here, right now. Now often our mind likes to tell us we don’t have enough time for meditation – but that’s the sense of lack rearing its ugly head. You are wise to that one by now. Take 5 minutes. Take that 5 minutes you would have otherwise spent flicking through Facebook or Instagram – lets call it “wise re-appropriation” of our time. Use that 5 minutes to ground and centre. When we get focused back on what is really happening we don’t need to steal from our own unfolding – that’s a Beauty report for sure.
Asana practice – This not stealing from yourself in your asana practice is not an excuse to be slack off - there’s a difference between not going to an uncomfortable place in asana because you can’t be bothered and it’s hard work, versus not going deeper because you are afraid of going into the unknown, versus actually going physically way too deep because your ego thinks the pose looks better but actually you can’t breathe and your tweaky knee is not feeling so great. If you have stuck with this article long enough to read this then I think you most likely know what I’m referring to here. When we don’t go into the unknown because it’s new and scary we maybe deny ourself the opportunity to navigate new and unexplored exciting terrain within. Catch the fear, go in slowly and enjoy the experience, as Ana Forrest says– find out which part of this can I do? Do that bit and enjoy it! If you are not going there because you can’t be bothered and it feels like hard work - check in with yourself. Are you really feeling indifferent? Or are you actually feeling tired and therefore would benefit from a slower, shorter practice today? What would feed you and your Spirit, not steal from it? If you catch yourself in twisty, painful, can’t breathe but quick look I got into the pose territory – congratulate yourself, not on having forced yourself into the pose but on the fact that you realize this is not where you need to be today. Rather than steal from the body to be somewhere for the sake of it, choose to be in the place that allows you to be fully present. So you invest in yourself in the now, rather than steal from your future experience.
Asteya reminds us that the fullness of our life is happening right now, not in some fairytale future. It’s sometimes hard to find the fairytale, but when we slow down and focus on what we do have, the magic of the present will unfold. Seeing our yoga practice as a “work in” rather than a “work out” is a great place to start this process.