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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Self Teacher Study – Mind Body Tune Ups

Mind Body Tune Ups

Alignment. Chances are you’ve heard this term for describing the positioning of our bodies in yoga postures. But what is alignment, really? What is it for? Is it simply the organization of our muscles, bones, tendons and organs, or is it something else?

Alignment is a practice of fine tuning the body. All vehicles require tune ups from time to time. When we bring our cars to the mechanic they might perform a wheel alignment and check the suspension. These adjustments help to keep your car functioning at an optimal level.

It’s the same with our body-vehicles. Yoga poses help to improve the functioning of your body by reversing the effects of poor postural habits, and from overworking or underworking the body. As our alignment improves so does our state of mind. When we’re not distracted by physical discomforts we’re free to focus on other pursuits.

Alignment develops through consistent, comprehensive yoga practice. Over time, practitioners begin to develop an increased level of awareness of their bodies and minds. This heightened sensitivity permeates other aspects of their lives. American yoga master Erich Schiffman explains:

“The beauty of being more sensitive lies in the discovery that beneficial things naturally start feeling good, better than before, and therefore become more attractive to you. Things that are bad for you no longer hold the attraction they once may have had. Your diet, for example, may undergo an effortless change. Certain foods you previously enjoyed may no longer be so appealing, and previously uninteresting foods may now entice you. Lifestyle habits may also change without conscious determination.”

By exploring our alignment we can begin to understand the mind-body connection. As we unravel the layers of our being we may discover how our outer and inner state parallel one another. The peace of mind you feel after a good yoga practice is a reflection of the freedom you feel in your body.

When you’re in “the zone” life takes on a fluid quality. This occurs in our interactions, our daily tasks, and our ability to move seamlessly through our days. This level of impeccability is like driving a sports car through a series of green lights. As we begin to tap into the intelligent design of the bodymind our confidence improves.

As our sensitivity develops we’ll become more aware of the times when we’re not in the zone. There may be a noticeable dissonance in our bodies, minds and environments. Some tell tale signs of needing a tune up include:

  • Mental tape-loops
  • Aches and pains
  • Feeling distracted
  • Encountering technical “speed bumps”
  • Increased irritability
  • Spilling things
  • Dissatisfaction
  • Low energy levels
  • Anti-social tendencies
  • Wasting money
  • Rushing

The first step is to notice that something feels off. Then take a moment to pause and listen to your intuition. The answer will appear if you simply ask yourself “What do I need right now?” Exercise, a home cooked meal, a massage or a good night’s sleep? Some time in nature or a good laugh with a friend?

These are all good forms of mind body tune ups. Another tune up tool is saucha, one of the niyamas (observances) of yoga. Saucha refers to purity in mind, body, and speech. Practicing saucha is a holistic form of spring cleaning. Next time you’re feeling a little funky try taking a shower, washing your yoga mat, emptying your inbox, or freshening up your living space.

What sorts of mind body tune ups do you practice? Feel free to leave a comment in the box below.