Aparigraha: Yoga’s Answer to Streamlining the New Year

With the holidays behind us and a new year ahead, this seemed like a perfect time to discuss the yogic practice of Aparigraha.

For me, New Year’s is less about making resolutions and more about getting organized. As a minimalist (who loves to shop) Aparigraha comes in very handy with decision-making. I use it when deciding what to keep and what to let go of. It also helps me determine what I want to bring in to my life.

The yamas and niyamas (morals and observances) are the first two branches of Patanjali’s Ashtanga Yoga. These primary steps offer a self-disciplinary code of conduct that aids in balanced spiritual development.

Aparigraha is the fifth yama. It’s translated as non-possessiveness, or the absence of greed. The objective is to free your mind from covetous thoughts. One way to accomplish this is through the minimalist lifestyle.

According to the Yoga Sutras, when the mind is purified of greed you obtain the siddhi (paranormal power) of remembering all of your past lives. This is if you believe in reincarnation.

Aparigraha teaches us to take only what we need. It’s kind of like doing an inventory of our lives. It raises the questions of what do we cling to and what is weighing us down? And not just material things (although that’s certainly part of it). We may hold on to:

  • Our identity, or who we think we are
  • People (partners, friends, enemies, children, etc.)
  • Dogmas/Beliefs

Aparigraha is an invitation to release that which does not serve you. Those boxes of papers that you haven’t touched in five years. Clothes that you haven’t worn in over a year. Unbalanced relationships. Former teachings that are no longer relevant.

One word of advice – take your time with this process. It can be difficult to begin and easy to get carried away. Start by asking what can I change? Baby steps are huge with this kind of work. Notice where the sticky spots are. You could also try any of these exercises:

  1. Eliminate Food Waste: In my home we have a weekly menu, where we keep track of what food is in the fridge, which meals are on deck, and when the expiration dates are.
  2. Create a Capsule Wardrobe: Reduce clutter by donating or selling any clothes that you don’t wear. The clothes that you wear regularly form the basis of your capsule wardrobe. [Read: 7 Tips to Help You Create Your Capsule Wardrobe]
  3. Reset to Zero: This is a lovely way to describe what happens to our minds when our home environment is put into order. It’s like hitting a reset button on your mental state – especially helpful before beginning any new projects. [Read: Reset to Zero]

These are just a few ways that you can streamline the start of your New Year. If you enjoyed this article, you might also like:

Asteya: Yoga’s Answer to Hungry Ghost Syndrome

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Asteya: Yoga’s Answer to Hungry Ghost Syndrome

I met a hungry ghost at a dinner party. I know the type, but had never met one who was so far gone. We had an eye opening conversation that got me thinking.

The concept of hungry ghosts comes from Chinese Buddhism, Taoism and Chinese folklore. Hungry ghosts are lost souls, often depicted as having long, thin necks and huge swollen abdomens. According to tradition, evil deeds such as killing, stealing and sexual misconduct lead to becoming a hungry ghost.

“Defined by a fusion of rage and desire, tormented by unfulfilled cravings and insatiably demanding impossible satisfactions, hungry ghosts are condemned to inhabit shadowy and dismal places in the realm of the living. Their specific hunger varies according to their past karma and the sins they are atoning for. Some can eat but find it impossible to find food or drink. Others may find food and drink, but have pinhole mouths and cannot swallow. For others, food bursts into flames or rots even as they devour it.” – Hungry Ghosts: their History and Origin

This person was a living embodiment of the hungry ghost archetype. I soon realized that I was talking to a black hole of self-despair. I tried helping her but after a few attempts she became hostile so I let it go…

At the end of the night she had a flashback to a past trauma (poverty and starvation). She kept repeating:

“I was so hungry.”

One way she chose to deal with this was by directing her anger at the wealthy class. People she had never met or had any direct contact with. In her mind taxation was the solution to wealth inequality. She admitted that she lives beyond her means and has significant debt.

The interaction left me feeling drained and unsettled. One way I handle troubling situations is through research and contemplation (Jnana Yoga). My reflections led me back to the third Yama of Ashtanga Yoga: Asteya.

The Yamas are the universal ethical practices of yoga. Paired with the Niyamas (observances) these moral restraints form the foundation of Patanjali’s eight limbs of Ashtanga Yoga.

Asteya means non-stealing. One could say that stealing is a response to a sense of powerlessness which stems from feelings of not being enough.

In this context, stealing extends beyond more obvious forms of theft (examples: pick pocketing, burglary, etc.). Stealing may also include:

  • Other people’s ideas
  • Disregarding personal boundaries
  • Having an envious state of mind
  • Taking up a person’s time or attention
  • Energy (succubi/incubi)
One thing we do know is this: many people who experience interactions with psychopaths and narcissists report feeling ‘drained; and confused and often subsequently experience deteriorating health. – The Psychopath: The Mask of Sanity

She had what I would call a hungry ghost syndrome. Somewhere along the way these people lose their connection to their personal power. It may be a result of abuse, resulting in any number of dependencies.

Asteya is a reminder that we are enough. Learning how to cultivate personal power is an excellent way to reverse hungry ghost syndrome. Building our energy reserves allows us to feel balanced, strong and healthy when we go out in the world.

Some ways to do this include: meditation, taking care of your body, self-love, and alone time. In my Intro to Pranayama course I teach people how to access their own complete, full source of energy.

Final thought from the Yoga Sutras:

Once non-stealing has been permanently established, all riches will be available.

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