I’m A Yoga Teacher . . . . With a Checkered Past!

Asteya, non-stealingIn approximately 200 AD, the Sage Patanjali codified yoga in what is called the Yoga Sutras. Contained within the Yoga Sutras are  the Yamas and Niyamas, the ethical code of yoga. There are 5 Yamas or restraints and Asteya, (Non-Stealing), is the 3rd Yama.

Let’s look at this and examine it a little closer. “Non-Stealing” seems like a no-brainer.  You don’t take what does not belong to you.  Most people feel that they adhere pretty well to this.  But perhaps we are kidding ourselves.

There is very overt stealing,  such as robbing a bank, stealing a car and shop lifting.  Most of us, thank God are not engaging in these very obvious, illegal activities.  And I think most of us would agree that they are wrong.

But what about the more subtle ways that people sometimes steal?  Plagiarism is definitely on the rise like never before, due to the Internet.  What about file sharing and recording music from the Internet without paying for it?  Here is a list of some of the more “socially accepted” ways that people are stealing:

  • Taking someone’s idea without giving that person credit
  • Quoting someone in print without crediting the author
  • Refraining from reporting a mistake on a restaurant check or on your pay check when it’s in your favor
  • Engaging in sexual relations with a married person
  • Taking things like office supplies or software from your place of employment
  • Lying or coloring the truth to get an undeserved discount
  • Lying about a child’s age to get a discount
  • Noticing that the cashier forgot to charge you for an expensive item and saying nothing
  • Under reporting your income for a tax break
  • Ignoring a “No Trespassing” sign
  • Ignoring a “Private Property” or “No Parking” sign
  • Taking home towels from your hotel room
  • Taking samples from the bulk bins in Whole Foods
  • Arriving late to an appointment.  You are stealing *time* from the other person or group

Well that’s just a partial list of some of the more common ways that we are stealing from one another on a regular basis.  If we can easily “get away” with something, does that make it right? Have you ever received a double shipment for something and not reported it?  It’s very tempting, isn’t it?

What is your relationship with this idea of stealing or non-stealing?  The basic premise is simple.  If it rightfully does not belong to you, let it go, leave it alone.  And no, stealing is *not* OK, even if you can easily get away with it.

As preparation for writing this blog post, I began to examine my own checkered relationship with some of the “socially acceptable” but deviant actions from the list above as well as my relationship with out and out stealing!

Some interesting memories rose to the surface.  I think as humans, we are all pulled into the lure of getting something for nothing . . . a freebie so to speak.

As a young girl of maybe 10 or 11, I had a friend named Holly who taught me how to shoplift. On the weekends, as kids growing up in the suburbs, we would often either walk or ride our bikes “down to the village.” This was a small town center consisting of 2 supermarkets, a drug store, shoe store and the like. Our favorite place to hang out was a small candy store called “Margies,” which was a small Mom ‘n Pop store that sold candy, comic books, a few toys and had a soda fountain that served everything from chocolate malteds to hamburgers and hot dogs. On weekends it was our custom to take our allowances and walk the mile or so down the hill and buy ourselves some treats.

At some point, my friend Holly (who was really a pretty nice kid otherwise,) started bragging about her shoplifting expertise and telling us about all the candy and stuff that she had lifted. She seemed so fearless. She became a hero in my eyes. There was something about doing something, that you knew went against everything you were taught by your parents, and getting away with it, that was so compelling to my naive, youthful mind.

Thanks to Holly, I became a compulsive shoplifter for several years. There was a certain rush of victory that one got, as soon as you were out of the door and back on the street with 2 pieces of unpaid for Bazooka Bubble Gum in your pocket. The thrill of victory! Bubble gum never tasted so good!

The sad part is, I graduated from just being a local bubblegum thief, to a full blown shoplifter who actually took the bus to a local metropolis and began taking anything I could get my hands on like wallets, paperweights and other small knickknacks. And thinking back on this period of my life, I must’ve been good ’cause I never got caught – - or I should say, for a very long time, I never got caught, until one fateful day when I was in my late 20′s – - (and yes, sad to say, even after 4 years of college), I was still somehow attracted to the danger and thrill of ripping stuff off!

This all came to a head, one fateful day when living in Boston.  I actually got caught red handed attempting to walk out of Sears with an unpaid for shirt stuffed under my winter jacket and boom! I tripped the alarm! Literally within about 2  seconds I was surrounded by 3 big, mean looking security guards and they hauled me into a back office for interrogation. Talk about a rush! My heart was just about beating into my throat!

This had to be one of the most humiliating experiences, I’ve ever had in my life. On second thought, I think it was the single *most* humiliating experience, I ever had in my life.

Well thankfully, they did not send me to prison and I am here to tell the story. And as you can imagine, this brought my shoplifting career to a very swift halt! Well sort of. I never tried to take anything from a retail store after this. Getting caught shoplifting in Sears was a real wake up call for me.

But there was that time when my nephew came to visit me in Boston (I think I was in my 40′s by that time) and he just loved checking out all the really posh, and ritzy hotels in downtown Boston. We both thought it was kind of funny that you could walk into these places wearing jeans and sneakers and just sort of hang out as if you belonged there and no one really questioned it.

At one point, I think we tried to sneak into one of the fitness areas and that plan got derailed, but as I recall we were able to stuff a few fresh apples in our coat pockets. And then after riding the elevator up to one of the higher floors in the hotel, we found an abandoned housekeeping cart and we helped ourselves to some free soaps, lotions and shampoos. I kid you not!

And I tell you this not to brag or try to look like a hero in your eyes. Quite the contrary. It’s all fuel for the meditative fire. . . . that path to self-knowledge, which is the way of the yogi. There will always be those times when we stray off our intended path. But hopefully as a result of clarifying our intentions, and consciously attempting to act in accordance with our intentions, those times become fewer and farther between.


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5 Responses to “I’m A Yoga Teacher . . . . With a Checkered Past!”

  1. B says:

    Gotta disagree with you is classifying “Engaging in sexual relations with a married person” as “stealing,” exactly.

    That’s not to say it’s a good thing to do, but to view it as stealing I think you must view married people (or at least their sexuality) as each other’s property. Which is not something all (or even necessarily most) people think about marriage anymore.

    I would also disagree that it’s “socially accepted,” though. Cheating (or enabling someone to cheat- though it’s worth mentioning that cheaters are also liars, so “enabling” might not be exactly the right word here) may be sadly common, but I think most people are still (at least in theory) very much opposed to it.

  2. 50 Plus Yoga says:

    B,thanks for your comment! I totally see where you are coming from.

    And I know it sounds a bit icky to use the word stealing when people have extramarital sex. Because you are right, it’s not stealing “exactly.”

    But it is very much “like” stealing. It looks like stealing and it smells like stealing.

    And here is why – - First of all the exception would be if 2 people are in an “open” marriage and have agreed that sleeping with others is expected and accepted. In that case if I slept with one of those partners, then, no it’s not stealing.

    But on the other hand, in the case of a traditional marriage where both partners have not agreed to include extramarital sex into the picture, it’s a different story.

    Here is an analogy – - If I publish a book, legally I have exclusive rights to the content. If you take a chapter from my book and publish it on your web site without permission, you are stealing from me because, you do not have rights to that content.

    When people get married, they agree to exclusively have sex with one another. It’s written in the vow. Let’s say that Mary and Jim are married and Jim and I decide to have sex. I believe I have stolen something from Mary, because, based on the marriage vow – - she and Jim have agreed to be exclusive. Jim may not feel like being exclusive, but unless he has Mary’s permission, then I am stealing.

    This does not mean that I am objectifying Mary or people in general, but I am honoring the vow.

  3. joelene says:

    thank you for your thoughts. i’ve also heard asteya translated as ‘not taking what is not freely given’. as it applies to marriage, i doubt most people would willingly share their partner with a third party (unless, as you mentioned there is an agreement to do so).

    as well, you mentioned 7 yamas while i’ve only learned about the 5 yamas and niyamas. can you please list the 7? thank you.

    • 50 Plus Yoga says:

      Joelene, Regarding “i’ve also heard asteya translated as ‘not taking what is not freely given” – YES that is a great definition!
      Thank you for mentioning it. That does shed some light on the whole adultery issue and how asteya supports honoring the
      marriage vows. As far as 7 yamas — “oops!” I think I meant to say 5. :-) Thanks for pointing that out. I must be confusing
      my chakras with my yamas , , , , , :-)

  4. 50 Plus Yoga says:

    Oh, one more thought regarding Joelene’s input: i’ve also heard asteya translated as ‘not taking what is not freely given’.

    So according to that defintion – - if I spot a $100 bill on the sidewalk — should I leave it there? Now that is a conundrum!

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