Asteya is one of Patanjali’s yamas or codes of ethics.  Asteya’s literal translation is non-stealing.  Since most of us have that part down by now, I hope, (and because like any philosophical or religious text, it’s important to delve deeper), how can this be investigated more deeply, how can it provide more meaning?

For me, it’s taking what I need, but no more.  One can “steal” a pose in yoga by pushing into it physically, without a sense of peacefulness and/or proper alignment.  This is often a self-limiting practice because you get hurt pretty quickly this way.  So, yes, finding asteya in our poses is about finding the balance between challenging yourself and not losing track of what you need to support yourself.  For some of us, that means the dreaded “backing off a bit”.  Three months ago, I went to an equinox celebration with a slight twinge in my back from overdoing it in a heated yoga class the day before.  The practice was to perform 108 surya namaskars, a wonderful challenge for even seasoned yogis.  But did I stop when the twinge became pain?  No.  I was with a friend an hour away, we’d driven together, and I distracted myself with these as excuses from the truth, which is that I just didn’t want to “quit”.  I wanted to do 108 sun salutations and to be able to say I did it.  It took me about 3 weeks to really recover; it was a small muscle pull deep in my middle back muscles.  A decade or two older and who knows what kind of damage I’d have done.  Hopefully this time the lesson sticks with me.

Beyond the risk of injury though, stealing a yoga pose is stealing from yourself the mental and emotional benefits of your yoga practice, which for many of us becomes more and more the purpose of the practice, and the reason we return to our mats each time.  Losing the mental balance and sense of ease of a balanced yoga practice is a very steep price for satisfying our egos, for being able to say we did something.

How do we find this balance of challenging ourselves the right amount in asana practice?  I think it has to do with really connecting with the feeling within your body as you practice, and being able to separate the mind’s view and the body’s feeling from one another.  And then, to have the fortitude and respect for yourself to make a judicious choice.  Possibly, we can find balance when making other life choices; balancing trying new things and taking on challenges while maintaining practices that support us on an even keel.

Asana focus: balance stability (hugging into the midline) with extension and expansion.

Backbends including salambasana, ustrasana and urdhva dhanurasana coming from stable legs for foundation and extension through the sternum, curling from a place of lengthening out first, and being sensitive to how the lower back and shoulders feel in the poses.

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