Adhering to the yogic principle of non-possessiveness—the fifth yama—is a challenge. But its power cannot be denied. When I’m able to practice non-possessiveness, my life improves dramatically!
How does this work?
If you’re familiar with the yamas and niyamas, you know they are guidelines for living. I sometimes think of them as the Ten Commandments of yoga, since there are five yamas and five niyamas.
Depending on the translation, the fifth yama (aparigraha in Sanskrit) means non-possessiveness, non-attachment, or non-coveting. Though the translations are slightly different, they refer to the same basic idea.
I associate coveting with envy or perhaps wanting something I don’t already have. (Non-coveting is also one of the Ten Commandments.) Attachment is more to the inability let go of something I already have. This can include letting go of desire or a plan to accomplish or achieve something.
Possessiveness can mean a few things. I can neglect to share something I own, or I can be possessive of another person. I may even try to control another person’s actions if I’m worried about how those actions may affect me or something important to me.
Why the Fifth Yama is a Challenge
If you’re on a spiritual path, you may find yourself at odds with the world, at times even feeling like you don’t measure up or fit in. It can get discouraging and depressing. When we’re attached to the ways of the world (and who isn’t at times?), we often suffer.
Even if we do live up to expectations, life can feel empty, tempting us to think achieving more or fitting in more will relieve our pain. Relationships, along with material possessions and career or academic accolades, are among the things that can trip us up. We all know someone who will do whatever it takes to make connections or achieve recognition.
When I find myself envying someone else’s life, it’s not usually because I believe I need what that person has. If I look deeper, I can see my envy stems from fear that there’s something wrong with me because I don’t have “the thing” the group seems to value. When I recognize that feeling of “not enough,” I know it’s time to step up my practice of the fifth yama.
For me, aparigraha is most challenging when it comes to loss. Years ago, I lost a job I loved and cared about doing. More recently, a close friend moved away, and a yoga studio I treasured closed, leaving me without one of my favorite teachers for a while. And just last year, I had to move out of a home I loved. Accepting change and letting go is hard. But it’s also a clear opportunity for growth.
Aparigraha is Gratitude
Instead of thinking of aparigraha in terms of what not to do (don’t covet, don’t envy, don’t want what you do not have), I like to think of it as gratitude. For me, practicing aparigraha means focusing on the things I’m grateful for. And when I focus on those things, I realize there are many, which makes it easier to let go of the desire for more.
And here’s another awesome thing: Letting go opens doors to more! I’m now doing new and different work that I love. I have new friends and new yoga teachers, and my new home is cozy and much less expensive than the one I moved out of.
To appreciate these things, I had to let go of my former attachments. I also had to practice gratitude for the new experiences and people that came into my life. This is the power of the fifth yama. Less is truly more!
And, of course, I always need to be ready to let go again. Such is life. Such is yoga.
Would you like to explore more yoga topics in depth—perhaps with a group of yoga friends? Get your copy of Yoga Circles, A Guide to Creating Community off the Mat. You’ll find lots of topics and activities for living the yoga lifestyle and enjoying time with like-minded yogis! Click here to order!
Hi, I’m Maria. I created Yoga Circles for you if you want to delve more deeply into the philosophy, practice, and life-changing effects of yoga. I’m also a writer and editor who helps small business owners, wellness professionals, teachers, and authors publish books, develop marketing strategies, and connect with readers, clients, and students. Visit my website (link below) to learn more. I’d love to hear from you!