Done Not Doing

The first limb of yoga hands us a list of 5 things we ought not to be doing. They’re all pretty logical:   please don’t harm; don’t steal; don’t lie; don’t overindulge; and don’t hoard.

Hidden in the meanings of each is the fact that we must first not do these things to ourselves. Not in thought, word or deed. Do not think harmful thoughts toward yourself or another. Do not speak harmful words about, or to, yourself, or about, or to, another. And, certainly don’t commit any harmful acts to yourself or another. And so on.

If you can manage all of that on the first Yama alone – Ahimsa, non-harming – you probably don’t have to invest too much more energy. If we’re devoted to not harming, then it would follow that we’re not likely to commit the other four acts.

But there’s so much more richness to uncover.

As we move beyond the Yamas, we step fully into our second limb – Niyama. These are the 5 tenets we do practice. Purity, Contentment, Discipline, Self-study and Surrender to a higher power.

Without first cleansing the mind with the five yamas, we would only be theorizing about the  five niyamas. How can we cultivate contentment, for instance, if we are still attached to our stuff? How can bring discipline into our lives without first moderating all our appetites? Everything fits neatly together.

All lasting traditions have guidelines to live a functional, kind, life. They are all essentially the same; most begin with abstaining from harming other living beings. It’s not really a lot to ask.

“Before you speak let your words pass through three gates;
At the first gate, ask yourself, “Is it true?”
At the second ask, “Is it necessary?”
At the third gate ask, “Is it kind?”
-Sufi saying




Put Back the Post-It Notes and Paper Clips


The third Yama – Asteya – encourages us not to steal. Anything. And non-stealing goes way beyond office supplies, even way beyond physical stuff.

Webster defines stealing as: 1. To take (something that does not belong to you) in a way that is wrong or illegal, 2. To take (something that you are not supposed to have) without asking for permission and 3. To wrongly take and use (another person’s idea, words, etc.)

In every cases it involves taking.

Consider the following:

TARDINESS Being late, especially habitually, is more than just disrespectful, it is stealing someone else’s time. And the message is clear; my time is more valuable than yours. By being habitually late you also rob yourself of time.  You are likely trying to get just one more thing done, rushing around and not being present in anything you’re doing, only to show up harried and apologetic to a friend whose disappointment is clear. Slow down, edit the to-do list, create space. Honor the time you spend with others.

INTERRUPTING Aside from sending Miss Manners into a tailspin, speaking over someone else is stealing their voice, their thunder, and maybe even their presence. It’s a compulsion we all share; something just popped into your head and before you forget it, you have to blurt it out. It’s that important. Only it’s not. When we quietly and mindfully listen to the other person, we are honoring their process. If it is a solution they are seeking, they will make their way to it. Allow this to happen for them. Listen with the intent of hearing, not responding. Your response will be so much more thoughtful. Or as Stephen Covey so eloquently stated, “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.”

COMPLAINING Griping, which is typically gossip-inducing, is stealing someone else’s energy. By complaining, especially without a solution in mind (which would actually be problem-solving and not complaining at all) drains your own energy and now you’re asking someone else to solve a problem for you that likely isn’t a problem at all but rather a distraction that you have created to communicate with, or get the attention of, someone else. Often complaining is an effort to pull someone else down into drama. It is campaigning against someone else. Instead spend a few moments trying to solve the problem you have uncovered. Perhaps you’ll realize it’s not a problem at all. Maybe it’s just friendly conversation you are seeking. Keep Eleanor Roosevelt’s sage words in mind; “Great minds discuss ideas; Average minds discuss events; Small minds discuss people.”

STEALING STUFF This is probably the most obvious. But here’s the thing, stealing or even coveting the possessions of others exacerbates a lack mentality, sending waves out into the void transmitting that you believe you do not have enough, and indeed, are not enough. You should stop that right now. You are calling to yourself the very opposite of abundance. Instead know, or say to yourself, that you have exactly what you need and just start to pay attention. Everything shows up. It may not look exactly as you pictured it, but it will make its way to you when the timing is right.

TAKING FREE STUFF How can it be stealing if it’s free, you ask? If you don’t need it, you are taking it from someone who may AND you are transmitting that lack signal again. You already have what you need. If you need it, really need it, take it.

The karmic antidote to all this lack-producing naughty behavior is to give. There is a tremendous amount of scientific documentation on the power of giving. Physically it fires off dopamine and other feel happy transmitters, making your feel good. Energetically, you are creating an opening for more to come in. Giving away your car does not mean you will be receiving a new car. But giving your mat everything you have in your yoga practice usually means your cup will be emptied of anything you no longer need so that it can be filled with what you do.

Yogi Amrit Desai so eloquently summarizes this yama, "We must recognize that the underlying premise in all stealing, coveting or jealousy is the belief that we are not sufficient, whole or complete. We practice asteya as an affirmation that we need nothing outside of ourselves to feel complete. We are enough as we are."

You are enough as you are. Give from there.