Originally published Type A Yoga blog, Jan. 2011
Ahimsa is the principle of non-violence. When I started practicing, I thought I had this one down. I don’t walk around punching people or anything, usually, so how hard could it be?
However, ahimsa isn’t only outward; it can also refer to violence towards ourselves. Pushing yourself until you ache the next day or to the point of exhaustion = doing yourself harm. Negative or even unnecessarily driven self-talk, such as “push harder, don’t screw this up, you have to finish right now,” can be harmful. Being competitive in class or in the world can get you ahead, but it can also cause you injury.
Ahimsa also refers to your perspective on the world. Are you thinking thoughts that are harmful to you or others?
Asteya and Aparigraha
These two principles are connected and can be applied internally and externally:
Asteya is often translated as non-stealing, and my “type A,”accomplishment-driven brain scratches it off the to-do list. I haven’t robbed any banks, so I’m set! I also am ethically driven, so I don’t take credit for things I haven’t done, nor do I take things I don’t deserve. But again, applied inward and viewed more generally, and it’s harder than it looks. I steal from myself, as I think most people in this fast-paced world do. We give time and energy to our jobs, our families, our houses, our neighborhood, but this comes at a cost. We invest outside of ourselves. We steal time from ourselves everyday.
Aparigraha goes further and is far more difficult to translate. Sometimes it is called “non-possessiveness” but I prefer “non-grasping,” and is intertwined in many ways with Asteya. How often do we steal that energy from the present in order to build for the future? And how often do we realize we’ve spent our days without ever noticing them? The grasping at status, money, even security can cause us to chase our tails and miss out on what it was we were struggling for in the first place. We work to provide for our family, but we never see them. We bought a home to have a sense of stability, but we spend all of our time working on it instead of enjoying it. We buy “nice things” but have to work overtime to afford them.
As we live our modern lives consumed with consumption, we hear the clock ticking away louder and louder, but “the future is no place to place your better days.” (1)
Sometimes we grasp at the past rather than the future. If only I were younger, if only I knew then, if only I were still… You’re not. Get over it. What is so bad about where you are now? Why do we keep exhausting ourselves reaching out toward things that aren’t and neglecting the things that are?
As you go through your week “off the mat,” as we yoga types say, try to keep these principles in mind. How are you harming yourself or others? Do you get stuck in rush hour traffic, stressing yourself out and finding yourself angry at the people in front of you? Could you shift your hours or take a class after work to skip the aggravation? Are you clinging to some fantasy of what you might be rather than accepting and loving yourself for who you are now? Are you stealing time or energy from one aspect of your life in favor of another aspect? Each day take stock of your activities and mindfully consider how you are living or not living these three As: Ahimsa, Asteya, Aparigraha.
If you’re interested, these are three of the five “yamas.” Yamas and niyamas are the ethical principles of yoga, and two of the eight limbs of Patanjali’s ashtanga yoga. More later…
1 Dave Matthews Band. “Cry Freedom.” Crash. RCA: 1996.