Two years ago I taught a class that was a special combination of my teaching and a musical/sound accompaniment by some of my talented friends. The mix was if I don’t say so myself: pretty darn terrific. Had I questioned whether it worked, I did not have to look too far for evidence of its success. The class was in the afternoon and later that evening someone in attendance posted on the Facebook page of their studio, that they would be teaching THE SAME CLASS I had just taught. They were taking my combination, and likely my words and approach to their studio. “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, ” I’m sure some of you are saying as you read this story. And yes, that quote rings true. However what bothered me about this particular copycat act was that the teacher did not acknowledge that she had done my class but instead presented the idea as strictly her own. There was no nod to me, to what I had taught or to the experience that clearly she loved enough to imitate.
One of the yamas that Patanjali outlined in his Yoga Sutras is asetya, or non-stealing. This practice means you do not take what is not yours and make it yours. You do not watch the sequences that other yoga teachers teach and use them the next day as words from your own head. There is nobility it honoring the source of your knowledge. There is however, not honor in taking another’s ideas, words, practice, life or teaching and suddenly presenting it as authentically yours.
The truth we all know is that when you “steal” something that is not yours it cannot be shared from a place that lives at the center of your soul. There is no honesty in the delivery, there can be no authenticity in the actions. Whether your audience, be they yoga students, children or your partner, knows if these things are truly yours or not does not matter. Without having a true ownership to them you cannot share them with authenticity. Period.
This behavior in truth is no different from the students I used to teach in biology who would copy word for word sentences out of articles and books and present them as their own. In college these behaviors cause disciplinary action, but in life they often appear to be with out reprimand because we do not know how to call people out on their behaviors. Often we do not know when someone takes/shares our ideas to be their own, they just do it.
The reality of the practice we call “yoga” is that if you are not authentically practicing asteya then in a sense you are not a practicing yogi. Period. Living from a place of non-stealing is living from a place of knowing yourself. It is a place of honoring your truth and acknowledging that what you share has value, has meaning and is yours alone. Yoga brings us back to ourselves and if we are sharing, offering and promoting things that are someone’s then we are not practicing our yoga.
Living from a space of asetya means it is ok to share the words of another, the ideas, the sequence or asana created by someone else if you acknowledge your source. Then you are not stealing, but you are honoring THEIR practice along with your own. You are thanking them for their contribution and then offering it to others with a spin that is your own. You share where you received these gifts and then pass them on with your own twist. This practice is sharing, acknowledging and not stealing.
The teacher who took my sequences and workshop has to live with the knowledge that she presenting something to her students as hers that in truth was not. She may have shared with them what looked like yoga on the mat, but off it she was not practicing authentically.
When you come across something that inspires you or lights you up, ask yourself: how can I take this wonder and make it my own while still giving a shout out to its source? Ask yourself: are you scooping up what someone has dropped on your porch (mat/social media feed/ email) and presenting it as your own? Or are you living your yoga and sharing the input theirs has giving to you, and thereby their yoga, too. Are you practicing asetya?
To learn more about asetya and the other yamas and niyamas of yoga, join us for two weeks of this kind of inquiry at eight limb // life : maps. No need to know about them before hand or to be practicing yoga daily on your mat. This course is for LIVING yoga, for being a yogi and yoga off the mat. We’d love to have you!