Updated: Dec 3, 2020
Giving is kindness. Taking what has not been given to you in kindness is greedy. In Yoga, there is a word for it: Asteya.
Asteya – non-stealing
Asteya - the art of giving or earning it with respect, love, and integrity in an open and honest way (opposite of taking)
We all have heard that some people are “Takers” and some are “Givers”. There is another category called “Matchers”.
We all have come across somebody at some stage who constantly takes and leaves us tired and exhausted.
One of the Yamas (ethical behaviours in yoga) often gets translated as non-stealing. However, one could also interpret it as “not taking that which has not been offered to you by the owner or has been taken away from somebody else and was not offered openly and honestly”. Sounds familiar? We all have heard of stories where land has been taken away from farmers, or we may have experienced theft of some of our belongings.
What instantly springs to mind are material things, but the deeper meaning does not only include property. Asteya covers a whole range of taking away something of somebody without having earned it. Hence, it includes ideas, projects, copying somebody or something and claiming to be the owner and not showing gratitude to the person who helped you or brought you there in the first place.
Asteya came into my life with force after teaching for over 14 years. A fellow yoga teacher friend who covered some of my classes took over a class as hers, while I was travelling for 6 weeks to the other side of the planet.
Asteya in context of life
We were working at the same place (where I introduced her to), and this place was managed by people who make business decisions according to power relationships and tend to favourite people over others and in general create a lot of paranoia between instructors. Most instructors are too afraid to speak up since they depend on the little money they earn.
I received an email while I was travelling on the other side of the planet that I lost the class that I had entrusted to my former friend. It was evident that the person who wrote to me looked for a way to get at me while I was travelling. I am not at all an agreeable faker (an agreeable faker is somebody who smiles and agrees to everything to avoid pain and confrontation). I will always speak up for myself and others, when I feel something unfair is happening, and my friend knew that it was not a fair decision, since there were little issues before that.
When in contact with my friend, she did not mention this at all to me, but only asked if I was ok? No, I was not. She took my class knowing that the person did this on purpose and I felt betrayed, so I told her. She came back saying that this has nothing to do with her, but only is between me and the place where I used to teach, and this is work and not a school playground, and I should not email her about this again.
This was when the concept of “Asteya” crept in, but first I was shocked, sad, and angry. I told her that she is not my friend, and this would come back to her. I was raging. How could she? How could she take work away from her friend? How could she not even explain the situation to me? Not only did she take that class of me, but she also refused to talk about it and send me instead of a patronising message. She even blocked me from social media. I felt empty and so sad and angry. I was miles away helpless to deal with it at all (I was in a little town in New Zealand), I had bad internet connections and only my little phone. After a few days thinking about, I decided to let go of all classes I was teaching at that place.
When I came back home, it was cold and dark, and I fell into a little bit of depression (my little part-time job with a charming manager and the team had stopped since it was only for a year and yoga classes were down. I had overworked myself for one year with lots of inconvenient classes and an office job. I felt betrayed and sad. A couple of weeks later (finally over the jet lag and the cold), Asteya crept back into my thoughts, and I realized a deeper meaning looking through the lens of Asteya of what had happened.
I realized how much I had lost the line of integrity in my life. This line is what in Buddhism is called the middle path, where there is no right or wrong, but greater awareness builds a stable line with values and integrity. If you move away too much from this line, you lose your balance. I had been feeling disrespected at this place before and the fact that I had given so much in my classes and willingness to teach people even on a Sunday, although I was working every day, was not acknowledged at all. All cover classes went to the same teacher; any new classes never got offered to me. No transparency or consolation was going on. Nothing.
I realized that I had given too much with the consequence of stealing from myself. This was particularly true for the last year I was working part-time in an office where I felt very appreciated, but also was teaching yoga classes every evening including the weekends all over town sometimes coming home late at night feeling tired the next morning. I neglected my own practice and well-being. When travelling, I fell ill in the first week, and even thus I enjoyed the epic journey travelling to 4 countries and met interesting people along, I felt exhausted.
Looking through the lens of “Asteya.”
Teaching yoga has become for many nowadays a job career. Still, often the implications of becoming a yoga teacher are not clear, and it seems just glamorous to do what your passionate about and thinking that you want to help others to feel good. After all, when you went to yoga classes, this is, what those classes and yoga have done for you. This is certainly a good motivation in deciding to become a yoga teacher, but often the places where yoga is offered don t live by the first two stages of the eight limbs of yoga and are directed by people with no ethical standards and driven by greed and power and takers.
The desire to take comes from the feeling we don’t have enough, and that may well be on an emotional level rather than material level. If we look through the lens of Asteya, we start to treat people with respect and openness.
Yoga Teachers are often running from classes to classes. This can be very stressful, especially if you get caught in traffic, or one place is far away from your base, or a class is so late that you come home tired and hungry and feel exhausted the next morning. Slowly your own practice diminishes, you end up only giving but stop receiving. Sometimes people who give without looking after themselves or building some healthy boundaries become takers, or they become robots (how many classes I have been to where I felt the teacher was not looking at any of her/his students, simply doing posture with them and the Mojo had gone).
All this leads to that the lens of Asteya does not work and you lose this stable thread of line, which keeps you balanced. Especially when you enter as a new teacher the market you want to teach and take everything there is.
Sometimes It might leave you with burnout and the sparkle and light diminish, and yoga classes become a means to earn your living, and you forget the two important stages of yoga, that is the Yamas and Niyamas (ethical guidance to yourself and others). The best way to live one's life is in a gentle, balanced, giving way that gives nourishment and overall freedom to everybody, including yourself.
Some people are natural givers; some people are simply takers. Asteya is giving (the opposite of taking). I realised after feeling betrayed and angry that it was both of us who were out of balance. The urge to take from others often comes from the subconscious belief that we don’t have enough or there is not enough to go around. This is certainly true in the town where I live, which seems to have more yoga teachers than students; however, this fear leads to greed. Inner development is not something that comes overnight. Merits and other things will come to us in the right way, earned by our merit, and we learn through Asteya to handle situations with respect. We can ask ourselves the question “how did I earn this, did I put in the effort, did I handle the situation with integrity? Is the process fair, or does it involve hidden motives?”
What did I learn from this? I learnt to remind myself to try my best to truly live by the two steps of the Yamas and Niyamas. I learnt to appreciate Asteya and give myself the love I deserve. First, I started with my own yoga practice again. I started to contemplate to put my efforts into mindful places and only teach there. If this means having to give up teaching, I am willing to do so. I also learnt about being more discerning against self-serving behaviour and what a psychologist calls “agreeable fakers” who might be in their inner motive simply takers. I was forced to slow down and be more attentive to myself.
I am a giver and want to continue to be a giver, and I truly want to give abundantly, but sometimes you must discern better and be careful about the takers in your life. It would help if you learned how to protect yourself and overall stay close to your inner line. If you help others to increase their well-being, they should not plot against your well-being, but also be concerned about your progress and feelings.
Like Adam Grant says “Many takers are good fakers: they trick us into thinking that they care about us. We get fooled by a personality trait called agreeableness: agreeable people tend to be nice, polite, warm, and friendly, whereas disagreeable people are more critical, sceptical, and challenging. Most people assume that agreeable people are givers, but my research debunks that myth: there’s no connection between the two. Agreeableness is someone’s outer veneer; giving and taking are their inner motives. Just because it’s pleasant to interact with someone doesn’t mean he has our best interests at heart.”
I really feel identified with being a disagreeable giver, I am happy to connect people, I am happy to help others, but I will speak up, which sometimes seems I am the odd one out. I teach people to be warriors and stand up for what they believe in. It can feel very uncomfortable, but nothing worse than a person who agrees to everything.
What can we learn from Asteya?
As a tip to givers who feel disappointed and burnt out, I would say go out and seek help. That is what I did. I called friends and met people. I started to realise how many agreeable fakers are around me and how many people were on the same wavelength than me. I needed support, and some people gave it to me, some people became friends and my teachers. I started with meditation and dived deeper into my own yoga practice. I decided to let go of the places that are not mindful and let go of false friends. I decided for a while with new people in my life to be more discerning and maybe became a matcher rather than a giver, that is, expect something in return until you feel this person is not only using you but also concerned about your welfare.
Overall, I forgave my fellow yoga teacher friend. She is young, and in her first year of teaching, she may have had her motives, and that is ok. Regarding myself my line of integrity has become stronger, I would not take work away from a friend or former teacher even thus other people make me think I am better for it or it JUST "WORK."
Another important thing to do is to help other givers to succeed—plot FOR their well-being. Give something of yourself to somebody who feels burnt out, sad and tired. This is not charity; it is the true sense of being a giver who believes in the abundance of resources for everybody wouldn’t it be for the takers. Never forget to give gratitude to your teachers and other people who inspired you or helped you to get where you are. Sometimes life can take funny turns, but stay open and honest about it. Examine your motives and stay with love.
Read more by Pual Dallagham about Asteya (“Earn it. Respect it”) and listen to Simon Borg Olivier explaining what yoga for him means and listen to the TED Talk by Adam Grant on “Are you a giver or a taker” on youtube. They all inspired me writing about it.