Astanga - The Eight Limbs of Yogic Philosophy is the backbone to our daily practice off and on the mat!
The five Yamas, the first of the eight limbs of yoga, are moral codes that allow you to cultivate more ethical behavior towards others, yourself, and the world. Therefore, there are essential teachings for every yogi/yogini who seeks to understand the origin of this profound practice.
I will try to dive deeply into the fifth Yama, Aparigraha. I will explain how you can release physical and mental baggage, heal past hurts, and find more inner peace.
If you have read or studied The Yoga Sutras by Patanjali, you will find that the word Aparigraha means non-greed and non-possessiveness. Sutra 2.39 refers to this Yama, it says that “when a yogi is steadfast in non-covetousness, knowledge comes of the wherefore of his births.”
Non-covetousness means not wanting something that is not yours, which relates to the third Yama, Asteya, too. Aparigraha means not to accumulate (or desire to collect) more material things than you need, non-hoarding.
This Yama is important because if you want to advance spiritually, you need to move away from the material world; so, you should be reducing, not increasing, your possessions. When you do this you will gain deeper inner wisdom and higher knowledge. Basically, it gives you room to expand on all levels.
Aparigraha is actually one of the central teachings in the Yogic text the Bhagavad Gita, in which Krishna shares one of the teachings that could perhaps be the most important lesson of all to learn: “Let your concern be with action alone, and never with the fruits of action. Do not let the results of action be your motive, and do not be attached to inaction”. What Krishna is saying here, is that we should never concern ourselves with the outcome of a situation, we should only concern ourselves with what we’re actually doing right now as we work towards that outcome.
For example – how often do we worry about what might come of the effort we put into a project at work, a holiday we’re planning, or a meal we’re preparing, that we never really enjoy the work itself? So often we worry if we’ll be successful enough, or ‘good enough’ when we put our hearts on the line to show the world what we’re made of, that we forget why we started in the first place. Just go for it!
If you know you have something to do and share with the world, this teaching from the Bhagavad Gita tells us to do it – and to do it with all our hearts – and to let go of what might come of it. Non-attachment is a fundamental teaching in both yoga philosophy, Hinduism and Buddhism. Buddhist monks are well known for their lack of attachment to material things and for letting go of the self. When someone becomes a monk, they are expected to renounce their possessions and swap their clothes for orange robes. They even shave their heads, releasing any attachment to their hair.
Everyday Buddhist teachings tell them to give away anything they have in excess to someone in need, such as food or money. So for many of us in the Western world, Aparigraha teaches us to be more like the Buddhists.
Let’s not forget that all the Yamas have direct and indirect teachings. So, the fifth Yama, Aparigraha, is about freeing up your physical space and clearing your mental baggage and emotional pain from past experiences to experience greater enjoyment in life.
As Aparigraha relates to non-possessiveness, one excellent way to practice this Yama is by having a clear-out in your home. This is on my to-do list! In a world where we are bombarded by advertising and fast food, fast shopping, and Amazon, we quickly accumulate material possessions.
Having too much stuff doesn’t just take up physical space; it can also affect our minds and energy. A cluttered environment equals a cluttered mind and can cause you to lose sight of what is really important. The more things you own, the more likely you will develop an attachment to material possessions and it will even have an effect on your anxiety levels and states of nervousness.
A clean, tidy, and orderly living space with minimal furniture will do more than just make your rooms spacious. When you clear out the excess in your home and break your attachment to items by giving or throwing them away, you’ll notice your mind becomes clearer too.
This type of non-attachment helps you become more self-reliant, as you realize you can survive and even thrive without all the things you were hoarding. You can then continue to practice minimalism by buying what you need only, or in other words, the smallest possible amount. By adopting this lifestyle, you’ll enjoy greater independence and peace of mind.
Aside from giving up our material possessions, practicing Aparigraha is about letting go of negative emotions and thought patterns that stop us from living freely.
As human beings, it’s only natural to experience challenging moments when others betray our trust or cause us pain. Forgiving those that hurt us is not easy. Still, when we hold onto grudges, we choose to trap ourselves in a constant state of negativity.
Sometimes it is ourselves that we cannot forgive. Perhaps you made a silly mistake that cost you your job, relationship, or something else important. When this happens, it’s OK to acknowledge what you did was wrong, but it is not intelligent to keep beating yourself up about it. The only way you will be able to move on and continue living life is to practice forgiveness and unconditional love toward yourself.
Non-forgiveness can keep you stuck in a vicious cycle. Still, when you choose to forgive your or others’ mistakes, you will release the energetic baggage that has been holding you back. So practice Aparigraha by not allowing hurtful words or actions to hold space in your mind.
You can also practice Aparigraha by following the Hindu/Buddhist teachings around non-greed and non-attachment, giving things away without expecting to receive anything in return.
If you have an excess amount of money, donating some to a worthy cause is a great act of unselfishness. Generosity can be practiced in many ways, not involving money. You can volunteer at a charity, bake cookies for your neighbors, or offer to babysit to give a friend or family member a night off.
One of the best acts of generosity is to share your knowledge or connections with others. Unfortunately, many people refrain from doing this as they think they will lose something as the other person gains something. This comes from a scarcity mindset, which you can overcome through self-study and personal development.
When you can share freely with others, you’ll start to live with a mindset of abundance and positivity, which will increase your life force and the feeling of sheer joy.
One of the most common ways we can be greedy is when it comes to food. Yes, food is delicious, but eating more than we need harms our bodies more than does it good. If you struggle with binge eating or overeating, you most likely see food as an emotional fix or a distraction.
When we eat a piece of chocolate cake, we initially feel good. However, if you go back for a second slice, then a third slice, and so on, the experience changes. Once we get greedy, the food no longer feels satisfying. After a while, we may feel sick physically and towards ourselves due to our behavior.
We can sometimes hold onto emotions by clinging to memories we wish didn’t end. For example, we may attach to how we felt during the honeymoon phase of a new relationship. This memory might make us desire our relationship to be as good as then. However, clinging onto memories in such a way is going against Aparigraha.
Aparigraha teaches us that change is inevitable and that emotions, thoughts, and situations are fleeting. If someone who used to love you no longer does, clinging to them is like holding onto a material object that we once adored but is now rotting or rusting.
Unhealthy attachment to the past prevents new (and often better) opportunities from arising. So practicing the Aparigraha Yama and non-attachment is about allowing things to unfold naturally and flow smoothly in one’s life.
The need to cling and hold onto things usually comes down to insecurity. Looking to others for support is not bad, but when we feel so insecure that we have to rely on others, we lose our independence.
Taking time for and nurturing ourselves is one of the best ways to build our self-image, confidence, and independence. The more time we dedicate to our well-being, the more we develop self-reliance and confidence.
Some self-care practices that can help you improve your self-worth and relieve anxiety are:
• spending time in nature
• going for walks
• treating yourself to a massage or facial
Making time to do something you genuinely enjoy is the best gift you can give yourself. So whether you love to dance, paint, write, or knit, schedule regular time to practice and improve your favorite hobby, either on your own or in a group class.
Like all the Yamas and Niyamas, practicing Aparigraha on the mat is just as essential as introducing it into everyday life.
One of the most obvious ways to practice non-accumulation on the yoga mat is to make sure the space around you is clutter-free. Now, if you’re practicing yoga at home, you may not have the luxury of having your own yoga room. But, you can still practice Aparigraha by clearing up anything on the floor near your mat, such as kids’ toys :)
Attachment and possessiveness come down to the need to feel in control. We can experience this in our yoga practice when we set unrealistic expectations to master asanas that our bodies are not yet ready for. If you set a goal to learn handstand in one week, there’s a good chance you will be disappointed.
Therefore, one way to practice Aparigraha on the mat is to let go of expectations around the outcome of your session. By practicing non attachment, you release the need to feel in control and the possessiveness that comes with that. So for your next yoga class, set the intention to simply go with the flow and see how much more freeing and enjoyable your practice feels.
As I mentioned earlier, insecurity, fear and anxiety are common root causes of attachment and possessiveness. Your breath is the best tool for dealing with these feelings, and your yoga practice is the best time and place for making use of it. Your breath connects you to the present moment, getting you out of your head and into your body.
When you’re focusing on your breathing, your mind cannot be swayed by thoughts of the past or future; it stays locked in the here and now where you can think clearly and let things be. So while on your yoga mat, practice breathing deeply with each asana.
If doing sun salutations, link one posture to one slow and full inhale or exhale. Then when you’re holding asanas, take five deep and conscious breaths staying focused on the sensations in your body. Its also worth adding pranayama breathing techniques to your practice, particularly Anuloma Viloma (alternative nostril breathing), which is calming and soothing.
Remember that deep breathing is something you can practice multiple times throughout the day, too, not just on your mat. Whenever you notice anxiety creeping in, close your eyes and breathe in for a count of four and out for a count of four for at least one minute.
In yoga, as in life, we can become set in our ways when we get too attached to something. On the mat, this can manifest as always practicing the same asanas or sequence. So if you love Astanga yoga, as I do, you may only want to practice this style and feel fearful about trying a new one.
Fear of change is a familiar feeling that comes with an unhealthy attachment, so to prevent it, you should try to switch up your yoga routine. You can do this by trying a different style, teacher, or studio or learning more challenging asanas.
Keep in mind when learning new postures to be patient and allow the process to go at its own pace. If you cannot do a headstand the first, second, or tenth time you try, don’t worry. Don’t force the asanas or get too attached to the results, as that defeats the purpose!
Small changes can make a difference. So if you usually practice first thing in the morning, you can switch it up by practicing at a different time. Change is always good, as our resistance to change is what increases attachment and possessiveness and thus, prevents us from living freely.
The practice of Aparigraha will help us all experience peace and clarity in our day-to-day life on and off the mat. The Yama of non-hoarding, and non-attachment, along with the other four Yamas, are the foundation of the eight limbs of yoga. Invite these ethical teaching into your lives, and find a deeper experience of yoga and more connection with yourselves and the divine, the greatest reward we could receive.
All is possible
Hari Om Tat Sat