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Is Asteya (non-stealing) as straightforward as we think?

Updated: Jun 22

Asteya is translated to non-stealing. Pretty straightforward, right? If something isn't yours, don't take it, no matter how much you want to say "but I want it!" - cue the kids of Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory! As we grow up, we come up with creative ways to circumvent this, and we don't even realise it. We hide behind mutual agreements between consenting adults, even though the exchange isn't equitable. For example, there's the disparity in pay between males and females, the very low pay for farmer's goods, like milk, behind the guise of big store chain's being able to offer milk at a very low price. But we all know the grocery giants still rake in profits. There's the undocumented workers being paid sub-minimum wages and living in squalor until they can "pay off their debts". All of these have been in the news at one point; and they are, in essence, forms of stealing. Here are some examples of how ambiguous stealing can be. Sadly, my first two examples are from the yoga industry; as we are not immune to such "hidden thefts" either.

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Mad Yogi Managing Roadblocks to Wellbeing© - Demystifying Asteya (non-stealing)

1. The misuse of "karma yoga"

Pre-Covid, it was common for yoga studios to advertise for cleaning jobs (for the studio) but offer classes in lieu of payment. They call it "karma yoga"; Karma Yoga being the yoga of service. A discussion erupted in one of the yoga Facebook groups, some yoga teachers calling for this practice to stop and others defending it. The defence presented their case as a reasonable exchange, saying that "these cleaners need yoga but can't afford to pay. So instead of paying them, they get to do a class". I was on the other side of this. I argued that cleaners should be paid; in not paying cleaners, the studios were stealing their livelihoods.

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Think about it:

  1. Cleaning jobs are labour-intensive and would probably take more time than a regular 60-minute yoga class. It doesn't matter if the studio is "empty anyway" as one teacher put it. The entire square footage of the floor needs to be mopped, surfaces dusted, toilets's work.

  2. Cleaners earn little and need a glut of jobs to make ends meet. If you were to ask any reasonable person which they would prefer - to eat and be able to support themselves and their family OR a yoga class, I'm pretty sure they'll choose the former.

  3. If the yoga studio isn't making money enough to pay a cleaner, as another teacher put it, then the owners should do it themselves, don't you think? That way, they can appreciate the job more.

Let's say the cleaners accepted the job anyway; I would still argue that the exchange is lopsided, therefor violating Asteya.

2. Unfair exchange between professionals

I once read a call out for yoga teachers, by another, presumably, to pay musicians and artists for their work. Knowing people in the industry, she intimately knew their struggles and attested to the difficulties of the industry. Again, some yoga teachers proposed that yoga classes were all they could pay in exchange for video shoots and editing.

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I do all my content and had to buy all the equipment & software I needed - graphic design and video software, camera, lights and all that. I do know how expensive they are in terms of actual software and equipment on top of the time it takes to put all my content together. If I were asked to make content in exchange for classes or even courses, I'd say no.

I'll need to be paid for my time, effort, consumables and overheads. Professional video producers, editors, graphic designers need to be paid. It is their livelihood. Even if the exchange was agreed upon by both parties, have an honest conversation with yourself, and the other party if possible, and check if the swap of services really is equitable. Otherwise, both services need to be paid their worth. In this way, you'll also be in a better position to ask exactly what you want because you'll be a proper client.

Here's another example of this unfair exchange between professionals -

(Again, pre-Covid) A lot of teachers, specially newer ones, have asked in the socials about how to navigate situations where they are asked to audition for a chance to teach at yoga studios. This audition was to deliver a whole class. To be clear, this would be an unpaid teaching session for a regularly scheduled studio class delivered to their members. Now, I've done auditions as well. But only 15 minutes and to fellow candidates to the studio or health centre as part of the application process. It's analogous to a group assessment for corporate roles.

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But the situation above is different. The applicant would in reality teach a class for a possibility of getting hired. The studio gets the payments from the members, gets a free teacher and has no onus to give anything in return.

I don't think that's a fair exchange.

The applicant is looking for a job and instead is out-of-pocket the equivalent of a teaching session. What would be fair is to pay the teacher, regardless whether they get the job or not.

As we've seen, theft isn't as straightforward as we think. There are behaviours and mindsets that are not outright considered as theft, but they still steal from others.

Here are some check-ins you can use to see if you're stealing or not:

  • Check-in with Asteya - is the exchange equitable? If given freely, whatever it is, was it done without any coercion, guilt, demand, promise or subterfuge?

  • Check-in with Satya - are you being honest and truthful or are you making excuses?

  • Check-in with Ahimsa - are you sure no hurt and pain is being inflicted, however subtle or seemingly inconsequential. Even potential hurt would be good to be taken into consideration.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not bagging on my industry, I love my industry.

But as part of demystifying yoga is demystifying the industry as well. We enjoy a certain measure of esteem because yoga, as an ancient practice, has that. But we're just human and as fallible as anybody. For me, that's more relatable.

Now let's talk about examples of theft that occurs in our everyday lives. Side note, I hope you don't "actually" experience receiving NOR giving these...because that would be so bad. If you are experiencing any of these though, reach out and ask for help from any agency that is capable of aiding you; whether that be your family, friends or a figure of authority.

Now, continuing on...

3. Being unkind…

…Oh heck, I'll just say it - If you are hurtful, cruel, malicious, obnoxious, trollish in your behaviour, a bully, harass people and just a general ^#@!**#@, then yes, you are also a thief! What are you stealing, you ask (maybe indignantly?). You are stealing someone's confidence, happiness, joy, sense of self-worth and just suck the life out of people!

4. If you push down your tin-foil hat on other people's heads!

If you purposely spread misinformation in the guise of it being your truth, you are denying those you preach to the right to choose or find the correct information, specially if you are in a position to be believe in.

I'm talking about conspiracy theorists, anti-vaxxers, flat earthers and the like. And this kind of theft goes deeper. Sure, you can believe what you want. Fine.

But there are truths out there that make a mockery of the investigative axiom of "question everything". Question - yes! But don't refute in lieu of conspiracies that are evidently contrary to scientific evidence. Don't deny yourself clarity and correctness. Come on! The earth is round! Vaccines work!

5. …and then, there's actual stealing, of course.


4 Tips in checking-in with your actions and Asteya

I invite you to meditate on the following; without me expounding on them. I'd rather have them roll around in your head and heart so that whatever you decide, it will be your decision. Ask yourself:
  1. What your intentions are?

  2. What kind of action/s would originate from these intentions?

  3. Would your actions result in you taking something without a just exchange?

  4. Would the taking cause any pain and hurt on the part of the other person?

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As always, your values will guide you; and on that, don't let me sway you, because I'll never steal your choices.

In the end what you believe and the actions that follow are entirely up to you.

Your values are reflected in them, and you reveal what you are in what you value.


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