Off the Mat: Caught Stealing

Off the Mat: Caught Stealing

Been caught stealing
Once when I was 5
I enjoy stealing
It’s just as simple as that.

-Jane’s Addiction

My son went through a sticky fingers phase a few years back. Office supplies went missing from my desk. Quarters vanished from my dashboard bin, too often stranding me at a meter. His actions included a bit of Robin Hood-esque passing on quarters to friends. In exchange for what? I still don’t know. Perhaps simply to curry favor. Perhaps out of genuine generosity. I imposed natural consequences when possible; no you can’t have a quarter for the gumball machine because you’ve taken all of the ones I keep in the car. 

Then he “borrowed” a friend’s new marker set without permission. After returning the set with an apology and amends, we speculated on potential social consequences of stealing, how if people don’t trust you, they won’t want you to come back to play at their house. His mind spun all sorts of ethical questions, focused mainly on getting away with it. He argued that there’d be times when you don’t get caught stealing, so it would be ok. I countered with practicalities like security cameras, but also about the deeper importance of self-integrity. You’d know. You’d know you took something that isn’t yours.


Yoga philosophy identifies asteya, or not-stealing, as one of the fundamental ways to engage in the world without adding to its suffering, or our own. The lessons of asteya are obvious in these concrete examples from my kiddo and from my own childhood. It’s been a long time since I had to return the $1 bill taken from the church donation box of my youth! My shame was lesson enough for me to still remember the experience, forty plus years later. Sanskrit scholar Nicolai Bachman says “the choice (not to steal) is obvious if you are to develop inner and outer happiness.”

So where in my life can I do better about not taking from others?

“You interrupted, Mama.” The setting is Thanksgiving Saturday morning kitchen conversation. I jumped into the conversational fray. My kiddo called me on it. I didn’t say excuse me or wait my turn. I interjected.

Ah, here’s my asteya growing edge: I steal air time. I talk over people. It’s a longstanding habit born of the need to get a word in edgewise in my chatty family and to claim space in my male dominated previous career.

Those may be my reasons, but they are no excuse.

I’m impatient. I hear where someone’s train of thought is going – or think I do, let’s be honest – and don’t want to wait for them to get there. I like my ideas and want to share them. Many times, with the best intentions.  I find it easy to speak in public, easier than many. How do I step back and let others claim space? Not speak for – or over – those younger, less privileged in race or economics or education, less comfortable speaking, less verbally pushy than I am? How do I not steal their air time?

It’s easy to resort to punishing myself internally for such failures to live up to my ideals. Thankfully, it’s growing easier to recognize the unproductive nature of such self-criticism. Self-shaming becomes a way I steal from myself, my own peace of mind, my chance to change.

Reading commentaries by my favorite teachers, I’m reminded of the many aspects of not taking: honesty, trust, generosity, receptivity. These are ideals, yes. And they are also tools. Both Bachman and yoga master Nichala Joy Devi take asteya beyond “thou shalt not steal”, flipping it into proactive generosity and receptivity. “Living with generosity and honesty brings material and spiritual prosperity,” Devi writes.

As gift giving season swings into high gear, I’m looking for day to day opportunities to expand my generosity and practice asteya. How can I give, not just material things, but give of my time, my attention? How can I give others space as well, rather than claiming it for myself? When am I giving too much, depleting my energy, stealing my own health? When can a snag a moment of self-acceptance? That’s one I’d welcome to be caught stealing.


Ginny Hamilton

Pain specialist, yoga instructor, and Reiki Master Ginny Hamilton teaches simple & proven techniques to release pain & restore energy in the workplace, group classes & private sessions. She has put down roots in South Amherst with her spouse and young son. Daily she’s amazed by the beauty the Pioneer Valley offers, though her allergies beg to differ. In Off the Mat, Ginny explores how yoga’s physical and mindfulness exercises help her parent and how parenting shapes her yoga practice.

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