Asteya, Small Talk and Connecting from the Heart

Asteya – The third yama, or principle in the traditional Yogi moral code. Yamas are the rules and restraints that are meant to help us live in society whilst remaining Yoga practitioners. Asteya stands for: non-stealing, non-misappropriating.
[Taken from, Light on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali by B.K.S Iyengar]

Our Yogi moral code may sound quite generic for the reader who just begins to explore the traditional texts. It preaches the same principles all religions and common sense stand for: don’t kill, don’t lie, don’t steal, etc.

I think that those are quite obvious and are not too necessary to be written. Our human heart guides us to be kind before we learn how to read rules; it is after we start reading and communicating that our minds begin to change.

The meaning of the Yamas is much deeper than the obvious. Like everything we read in Sanskrit—the ancient Indian language in which the traditional texts are written—the Yogi moral code contains various meanings in each word.

Today I wanted to write about asteya, non-stealing.

Asteya does not stand only for non-stealing possessions or wealth as it directly translated in Iyengar’s elaboration on the sutras. It also, as my first teacher once said, stands for non-stealing time or peace of mind.

This more delicate stealing is a sin we are all susceptible to fall into easily. An example could be talking about ourselves and our own worries to another person; it is after all his time, that he could spend in peace, that we are wasting. Each of us is full of his own sufferings which he inevitably must bear. Spilling these sufferings to another is adding negativity to his life, or to few moments out of it. This process thus considered not kind or not helpful.

Sounds a bit hostile, doesn’t it? Thus to elaborate, we must differentiate amongst several kinds of sharing. Sharing our troubles with a friend who has chosen to listen to us is one thing, constant complaining and communicating to a person whilst coming from our own, unresolved, negative place is another.

If another being chooses willingly to hold space for your troubles, this is the biggest gift he can offer you; he gives you his time and sacrifices his peace to help you find yours. Friends like that, in Shakespeare’s words: ‘Grapple them unto thy soul with hoops of steel’.

Another thing to consider is whether our communications are truly helpful or are we spilling empty words. A classic example of an unnecessary conversation between two girlfriends will be as follows:

Girl A: ‘I’m so upset I just fought with my mum, I’m not sure what to do.’

Girl B: ‘I know, me too: I just broke up with my boyfriend.’

So basically, each person in this conversation just dwells on her own problem without listening or helping the other. Saying that, both might come out of this feeling content as they had used this opportunity to vent. They stole each other’s time but they are feeling happy about it, so really, who are we to judge?

Even though venting can be fun, on our Yogi path we want to reduce unnecessary communication to minimum and commit to connect to others from the heart. Connecting from the heart means communicating on a deeper level: sharing what is meaningful to us with those who matter. And even more important, to avoid stealing time and peace of mind, we must restrict our communication to be only honest.

It is traditionally believed that the community of Yogis is a community that comes together from a place of truth. There must be no cynicism in this community, no hypocrisy. The Yoga shala is meant to be a safe space where one can be vulnerable and reside in one’s own authentic being. After all the ultimate goal of the practice is to reach closer to yourself; to achieve a state of mind in which according to Patanjali, ‘the seer dwells in his own true splendour’. Thus it makes no sense to restrict the self, by stealing truth, from fulfilling itself and finding its most divine manifestation.

I find that in our western, busy, competitive world truth is often misunderstood. Maybe many readers could think that I meant by being honest: being polite to each other and avoid lying. But no, those again are really obvious principles that don’t require elaboration in an article. There is nothing unique about those values and they should be maintained in any community or society.

But what makes our Yogi space different is that it allows real honesty: the one we don’t have time for in daily life.

We live in a world where being honest is considered crazy; I mean really honest, like crying in public because you are hurting, or exhaling loudly when you need to let go, or allowing all thoughts to cross through your mind without judging yourself for them being there. These are all things that are so common in a Yoga class and so rare in the life outside our mats.

Honesty is speaking on a deep level and not just asking another, ‘how are you?’, whilst you don’t actually expect a sincere answer from him.

Here in Australia I find people getting sometimes offended when you don’t answer their greeting with, ‘good thanks. How are you?’. But real honesty is not to answer back in that manner.

I am rarely just ‘good’, so I don’t want to lie but I also don’t want to steal a brief acquaintances’ time to tell him all of my troubles. I also not necessarily want to hold space for anyone who wishes to spill their life story to me. So I rarely ask, ‘how are you?’ unless I am actually interested to hear a detailed reply, because I see it as a little lie.

In that way I believe I hold to my truth.

When we are not honest within ourselves we are stealing our own inner peace; living a lie, even in its smallest manifestation, is truly a waste of time. And it is against the principle of asteya

In general, I never liked small talk. But I think that accepting asteya as a value protects me from being annoyed by those meaningless words. Some call me brutally honest or cold, but those are features that I find positive and I myself search for them in people whom I wish to accept into my life.

So you can imagine it took me a while to get used to this hypocrisy that is embedded in the Australian common greeting. It’s just a cultural habit and I don’t expect anyone to change it. But I think it is important to always question our behaviours and notice how much out of our time is wasted on speaking in lies.

As a teacher I wish only to see my students in their purest manifestation. I wish to deny all of their labels and greet them from the heart to a space of safety. Thus I don’t want to do small talk with them.

My teacher once asked us, her students, ‘don’t talk to me before the class because I am not always open to listen at this time’. Some considered this request to be rude at the time but now, being a teacher myself, I really relate to these words. It is the commitment to asteya that makes me want to talk to my students only on the level that I want to encourage them to reside in during their practice. I want to talk to their souls through teaching, I don’t want to waste their time. So it needs to be done when there is the time and the space for such a conversation.

We shouldn’t small talk with our students, we shouldn’t trade honesty for politeness, otherwise we are only a business trying to attract clients and not also teachers who seek to hold space for our students’ divine selves.

I know that those ideas are not necessarily doable in our society. We don’t live in an ideal world and you don’t have to agree with my elaboration on asteya. But maybe it is something for us Yogis to think about, both teachers and students. How much of the time we spend talking is really ours? How much of inner peace we suck from others to dwell on our own negativities? How much out of our conversations with each other are meaningful? And more important, do we really appreciate those who listen and the space that is held for us?






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