Aparigraha: The Forgotten Yama

Of all the yogic teachings, the most well known to newcomers and experienced yogis alike is asana (the postures) because we all physically practice them in yoga class. Students of yoga philosophy are also familiar with the first two limbs of yoga—the yamas and niyamas—described by the sage Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras. The yamas are the universal codes of ethical behavior and niyamas are the personal observances—essentially guidance for how enlightened beings can best interact with the world, our friends, our families, and our selves. These ten practices and their translations can become intuitive and awakened within us when we place our attention on them, live them, and practice them.

Of the five yamasahimsa (non-violence), satya (not lying), asteya (not stealing), brahmacharya (sexual impeccability), and aparigraha (not coveting)—it is often the fifth yama, aparigraha, that seems to get lost in the shuffle. Maybe because it’s last on the list or seems difficult to pronounce (a-par-i-gra-ha), or perhaps it appears the same as asteya, which is more about taking what isn’t ours. In contrast, aparigraha is about greed-based desire that is rooted in jealousy: to inhabit what someone else is, where they are in life, or what they have. Aparigraha is looking at someone else and saying “I want that,” whether or not we have the same ability, experience, physiology, knowledge or desires as that other person. An easy example is when we are admiring/coveting someone else’s asana in yoga class. I recently taught a class where all my students wore blindfolds to awaken their aparigraha!! Pretty trippy.

As we move throughout the day, we often judge the world around us; we compare ourselves to other people, their successes, their ah-ha moments and their celebrations. We ooh and aah over someone else’s bag, shoes, car, boyfriend, girlfriend, spouse, status, success, money, or happiness. And then we feel less than. There are eight billion people on planet Earth and if we try to compare ourselves to eight billion other people, it’s like comparing bananas to oranges to grapes to cotton balls to geodes to leaves to birds – how can you compare those? You can’t. Just like those you might covet, there may be those who covet you and what you have. The cycle of jealousy is infinite, unless you choose to step into your grace and step beyond it.

When you start to feel that jealousy bubbling up, remind yourself “aparigraha, aparigraha”, then shift to gratitude. Stop for a moment and recognize something you do have that is amazing or something that could use some work. Celebrate the other person and what they have…and when you can merge with their excitement, that’s yoga, that’s union, that’s one-ness.

Practicing aparigraha helps us better discover the brilliance and divinity within our own selves so that we would never look at someone else and do anything other than root for them. Others we might “covet” demonstrate that the world is infinite and that what we can attract for ourselves is boundless. There’s enough room for all of us to play in the ever-expanding sandbox of the universe. No one really gets in our way; in fact, others’ successes can instill confidence within us that we too can succeed. No one is truly competing with us; others’ triumphs can point the way to the magnificence that is available to all of us.

When you rely on your own abundance and creativity, you can bloom and blossom and flourish without comparing yourself to anyone else. Even if you work side-by-side with someone and you both have the same exact title and compensation, what’s to compare? You’re on your path; they’re on theirs.

Practicing aparigraha is more than not coveting others. It’s celebrating what is ours and reminding us to reach for the stars rather than gazing at someone else’s. In that process, there is no coveting; there is no jealousy—only the excitement of the miracles in our life yet to unfold.

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