The Yamas: A deeper look at asteya

The Yamas: A deeper look at asteya

Asteya (uh-stay-ah) is our third sub-principle within the Yamas. It translates to non-stealing. And just as with ahimsa and satya there is more to this yama than meets the eye. Stealing is defined as “to take the property of another wrongfully and especially as a habitual or regular practice”. Now, we all know not to steal. We grow up being taught that stealing is wrong and, for some, learning that it is a sin. But within the Yoga Sutras (yogic philosophy text) we are introduced to a deeper meaning that shows us how stealing is not always about taking something physical from another person. It can be theft by intent, manipulation or deceit. It can be through our thoughts, words or actions. It can be stealing a non-physical thing from others or even from yourself. Let’s explore…


‘Be where you are . . . otherwise you will miss most of your life.’

It is the nature of the mind to wander. It’s what it does. But for many of us our mind runs the show and we are in the passenger's seat rather than the driver's seat. We are robbing ourselves of the present moment by living in the past or the future. Half of the time we are ruminating on what has happened, wishing we could either relive it or change it, we are berating our past selves. Meanwhile, for the other half we are counting down till Friday, till that trip, till that holiday, till that party, till that anything but the very moment we are in. We live life as a tick list - trying to check each thing off whilst adding 3 more. This is how we end up missing most of our life. This is when we feel low or anxious or stressed. This is when we feel life is happening to us and not for us. This is when we miss the beautiful moments right in front of our eyes. And it’s a cycle that is tough to break. How do we live in the present when our society thrives on us living in anything but? With yoga, of course. The essence of yoga is about living in the present moment - the only moment we have. When we are on the mat, we constantly come back to the present moment using our breath or body as an anchor. We learn to become an observer rather than getting carried away with thoughts and sensations. We begin to understand our ever-changing and cyclical nature and learn to accept and honour this. We meet ourselves with kindness and compassion at any given moment. These are all practices we can take off the mat into our daily lives to be present and stop stealing time from ourselves. As we become more present we experience more joy and the people around us do too. We begin to live in a state of asteya.

‘Comparison is the thief of joy’

A classic quote that we are all familiar with yet why do we still find ourselves comparing? I grew up being compared to my siblings, cousins and peers. I grew up comparing myself to my friends and peers. And nowadays, with social media, I find myself comparing myself to complete strangers who I will never meet. Social media has certainly exacerbated this love-hate relationship with comparison and most of us find ourselves comparing our worst days with other people’s highlight reels. We find ourselves living through our phone cameras and doing things that will look good on Instagram, rather than living in and enjoying the moment. This leads to us stealing our own inner-peace and joy. We are left feeling inadequate, not good enough and jealous. So how can we get to the root of our comparison habit and begin to stop it?


Firstly, we can practice gratitude for what we do have. If we feel content with our own lives then feelings of inadequacy will decrease when looking at others. Through our yoga practice we learn that everything we need comes from within so we stop searching outside of ourselves to feel good. We learn that physical possessions don’t bring the long lasting happiness we are searching for so we slowly stop comparing what we have with others. We come to understand that we are all united so by stealing from others, we are also stealing from ourselves. Now these are abstract lessons that are easy to think but difficult to put into practice so below is a journaling exercise to help get to the root of your comparison and explore your inner world. You will need a journal, a pen and oodles of self-compassion:

  • Think of someone you often compare yourself to - they could be someone you know, someone you don't, someone still in your life, someone no longer in your life etc
  • Notice what you notice - what is it about that person that is coming up for you/making you feel uneasy - peel away the layers
  • g. I feel insecure when I see person X going on holiday regularly because I rarely prioritise my need for adventure.
  • By doing this we are shining a light on our shadow side - we are embracing the parts of ourselves that we wouldn't want others to see and hide from the world and ourselves
  • This will lead you to understand where the feeling is coming from - e.g. I'm feeling this way cause I don't have a plan for X or I haven't made Y choice for myself
  • With this insight we are able to define our version of 'success' in that area, set intentions and make a plan
  • From here to we connect back to ourselves - we come home
  • Be gentle and compassionate with yourself as you complete this exercise
  • With time, this will create an aura around us - we know and understand who we are and what we value. Therefore the things that used to come up for us when we see that person won't anymore. Remember, this is a work in progress and it may come up again in the future and when it does you now have the tools to deal with it.

With love and gratitude,

Jyoti x


(pronounced Jyo-thee)


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