I thoroughly enjoy nerding on yoga philosophy— which is some of why I’ve prioritized my own practice of physical yoga asana to balance out my own tendencies to only live in my thoughts and never in my own body.
In training other yoga teachers, I get to indulge much of my nerdery. This year’s class of Yogawood 200 hour vinyasa teacher trainees are approaching yogic ethics in the yamas and niyamas. These are codes of behaviors with others and oneself written down in the earliest yogic text, The Sutras. The distinction between behaviors with others and oneself is often emphasized— for example, the first Yama is ahimsa or non-harming. It’s pretty common to hear modern day yogis write or say, “I’m practicing ahimsa by not pushing myself too hard and doing every chaturanga. I’m not harming myself.”
The yamas aren’t really about you with you. Being nice to yourself is important, but it’s not ahimsa. Ahimsa is very clearly not harming others. From there, the yamas instruct us to be honest (satya), not to steal (asteya), to be respectful and careful with our sexual energy and behavior (brahmacarya), and to not grasp (aparigraha).
The last one, aparigraha, non-grasping fascinates me. I think it’s so illuminating in this current age. I read about it lots. I write about it too. It’s so comforting that for thousands of years millions of people have struggled with grasping after too many experiences, too many things, too many titles, jobs, relationships, trainings, accreditations, achievements, and more. I remember reading a Buddhist article on aparigraha (the idea shows up there too) reminding the reader that we grasp when we feel insufficient. The author’s antidote was to focus on feeling enough, to see where we have enough, and are enough. Then the grasping tendency abates.
As I revisited aparigraha recently I was struck that this is a yama, not a niyama, meaning aparigraha is very explicitly an instruction of our behavior in the context of others. I feel pretty clear on ahimsa, or brahmacarya for that matter (the sexual responsibility one!), but this felt different... grasping feels so detrimental to ourselves. If, like the Buddhist article suggested, it stems from a feeling of lacking the behavior is a bandaid or a distraction. How does it impact others?
I started looking out for it. My husband and I have amazing conversations and very different conversational styles. Conversations are combat sports for me. I want to parry the words and defeat my opponent. Kevin wants to learn something. Novel. We’re learned a lot from one another both in the content of our discussions as well as from our styles. I’ve urged Kevin to be more passionate and assertive. He’s shown me that listening is, perhaps, worthwhile.
My trained habit in conversations is grasping— I like to grasp after my response (“I will dazzle you!”) or find the perfect anecdote (“you will be charmed!”) so I’m usually hunting in my own brain rather than actually hearing the other person. Aparigraha. Grasping.
I realized that this causes me to not be present to the person I’m with. By practicing ahimsa, I no longer harm another. By practicing aparigraha, I’m actually present to them.
Aparigraha is absolutely a yama. It has everything to do with how we engage with those we perceive as other to us. It is inviting us to actually be with one another.