Are You Violent?! Do You Steal?

Those probably seem like strange questions – and for most of us, the immediate inner answer is “No!” But let’s take a moment to broaden the question and look a little deeper.

In yoga philosophy, the five niyamas are personal practices that relate to our inner world, our relationship with our selves.

These are paired with the five yamas, which guide our our interactions with other people and the world at large – and together, they form yoga’s ethical principles. They’re a tool to help you be your best self and let your light shine in the world.

Simply put, the yamas are things not to do, or restraints, while the niyamas are things to do, or observances. At this time of year, the niyamas of Ahimsa (“nonviolence”) and Asteya (“nonstealing”) seem especially relevant.

Nonviolence doesn’t just mean beating the crap out of someone else. It can be something as simple as being cruel to yourself in your own mind. Notice how you speak to yourself: do you call yourself names? Do you judge your body – looks – intelligence level? Are you mean to yourself?

“The way we talk to our children becomes their inner voice.” {Peggy O’Mara}

Many of us grew up with adults telling us cruel – and untrue – things about ourselves; and without even realizing it, we’ve internalized those mean voices. They become the unconscious soundtrack of our minds, and we repeat the abuse – the violence – without even realizing we’re doing it!

So many people walk around with internal narratives of violence > “I’m such an idiot!” – “If I wasn’t so lazy…” – “If I could just get rid of these thunder thighs”…. and if we don’t become aware of the level of abuse we’re inflicting on ourselves, we often pass it along to our children or to others.

“Be impeccable with your word: speak with integrity. Say only what you mean. Avoid using the word to speak against yourself or to gossip about others. Use the power of your word in the direction of truth and love.” {Don Miguel Ruiz}

Maybe your pattern isn’t to be mean to yourself, but rather to others. Gossip, talking shit – even sharing vulnerable personal details about someone with another – can all inflict hurt, which means they are all forms of violence. A good rule of thumb is: if that other person were standing there, would you still be saying what you’re saying right now?

Chances are, the answer is no: you’d either refrain from saying it at all… or you’d say it in a more gentle, mindful way. For the next day, notice your words, both spoken and unspoken. Try to practice kind, compassionate and supportive ways of communicating, both in your mind and aloud, and notice how much better you feel about yourself.

Non-Stealing

Non-Stealing doesn’t just mean grabbing someone’s purse and running down the street with it. Do you steal sleep from yourself? Do you steal time from your kids? Do you allow someone else’s drama to steal time or vitality from your life? How about social media or news that’s making you feel sad or panicked?

When you recognize that your time and energy are two of the most valuable commodities you have – and that they can be stolen, by you or someone else – then the question of non-stealing takes on a whole new light.

For the next day or two, start to notice if you’re stealing these resources from yourself or others > and/or if you’re allowing them to be stolen from you.

“You have a relationship with the person who made your shoes, whether you choose to acknowledge that relationship or not.” {Wesley Wenger}

In our globally connected world, it’s impossible to be completely responsible for every single purchase we make. However, we can recognize that our economy is often fueled by sweatshop labor and other unethical practices that essentially steal from others, even if they’re halfway around the globe.

Whenever and wherever possible, use your dollar to purchase in a way that is sustainable and fair.

Spending your money locally is a great way to accomplish this goal: when you’re buying food from the farmer’s market // going to the local printer instead of the corporate chain // shopping for Xmas gifts on Main Street instead of online // buying your morning brew from the local roaster vs. the chain – you’re minimizing your participation in the exploitation industries’ large-scale theft.

Again, do what you can. We could all easily drive ourselves crazy trying to be completely impeccable about every purchase – but start to notice simple ways you can take responsibility for your spending and contribute to a more just and fair economy. It’s a subtle form of non-stealing that can make you feel more connected to yourself and your community.

And research indicates that keeping your dollar local does more than just make you feel good: it’s contributes to a healthier regional economy, meaning that money has greater benefit for the roads, schools, post services, etc. that we rely on locally.

As you begin to reflect on these subtle interactions with yourself and with others, what are other ways that you can put the yogic principles of non-violence and non-stealing into practice? We’d love to hear how these tools help you be your best self.


Leigh-Ann Renz offers yoga + massage at Waynesville Yoga Center

Leigh-Ann Renz is a massage therapist, yoga instructor and part of the management team at Waynesville Yoga Center.

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