Aparigraha is the fifth Yama. It is defined as non-greed, non-attachment, non-possessiveness, non-hoarding, or non-grasping.
We need to remember the sutra (or threads) are very terse statements. When they were being taught, it was through verbal transmission, and they were handed down. And while much of what has been passed down was by men, for men, as part of ethical and spiritual study, the ideas were eventually shared with householders like us.
Freeing ourselves from attachments
Practicing non-attachment doesn’t mean that we must give up everything, isolate ourselves, or go through life without goals. What it does ask is that we refrain from harmful greed and obsessions that could otherwise invade and damage other aspects of our lives.
As an example, in the Bhagavad Gita, Arjuna is perplexed and filled with grief as he stands with Krisha, and wonders why he must fight his family, his teachers, and his friends.
It is on the battlefield Krishna tells him:
“Without concern for results, perform the necessary action; surrendering all attachments - accomplish life’s highest good.”
Essentially telling Arjuna, he would be doing a service to mankind by going to battle, to fight evil, and have no attachment to the fight or its results.
Krishna also states:
“Though the unwise cling to their actions, watching for results, the wise are free of attachments, and act for the well-being of the whole world.”
What does it mean to be free of attachments?
Typically, we think of non-hoarding of material possessions.
We all have things we know we need to purge.
We collect, store, and preserve items for the future. For a baker, items may include pans, rolling pins, and bowls. A gardener may need a shovel, a pick and a watering can.
But professions aside, let’s look at our regular daily lives? How many shoes do we need? I bet there are clothes in your closet you haven’t warn in years. What are you holding onto?
Aparigraha teaches us to let go of material items that aren’tnecessary. We live in a society of instant gratification. Usually, we hold on to things because we believe an object will bring us happiness. Typically, the happiness is short lived. The more we become attached to things, the more citta vritti (metal discourse) we must shift through.
Material possessiveness may be coupled with physiological holding and psychological clinging. For people not only collect and hoard physical belongings, but they withhold sentiments and their innermost feelings. In the body, held-back or stuffed emotion can manifest as clogging or excess in the lower intestinal area. It literally can make us sick in our belly.
Think of the TV show “Hoarders”. We see first-hand wh at hoarding tendencies can do to people’s physiological and psychological being. They hold onto the past instead of living in the present, and their bodies shut down because the mind is in a never-ending state of living in past emotions.
The importance of “letting-go” is a large foundation of the eight-limb path.
Marie Kondo, the organizing consultant, inspires us to only hold onto things that “spark joy”. Letting go of material possessions helps the mind become clear, calm, and free from mental clutter.
The next time you are shopping, and feel the need to buy something new, take a moment to think of why you need it. Will it bring peace and joy, or will it take up space?
Aparigraha teaches us non-grasping, and that includes relationships. We have all had our heart broken by a love at some point in our life. It may have been with a significant other, or even a family member. We are feeling beings. Our nervous system kicks into gear when we experience heart ache like a break-up or a death.
It is through the separation from the individual, we realize the relationship attachment. As parents, we are attached to our children. We care for them, so they may become active community citizens. As children, we care for our parents in their later years. Each relationship teaches us something about ourselves. Through death, we let go of the attachment of the individual, but hold onto the memories, and lessons learned.
Other relationship attachments include obsessive or possessive tendencies. I’m not going to go into detail about those relationships here but understand that these types of behaviors fall under this yama. Let go of the mental or physical heartache so you can live a healthy, peaceful life.
How does aparigraha translate to our asana practice?
We’ve all heard the statement, “comparison is the thief of joy”.
When we look at the pose as the goal, we are giving up the trust in ourselves and our breath, because we are greedy for the outcome of the shape, rather than truly experiencing the moment.
Krisha prompts Arjuna in the Gita:
“He who controls his actions but lets his mind dwell on sense-objects is deluding himself and spoiling his search for the deepest truth.”
What thoughts or feelings are you holding onto you that you can release? Let the truth unfold in your practice.
We see in the Hatha Pradipika,and the Gheranda Samhita where yoga asana is introduced. What once long ago started as 8 postures, has morphed into 8 million 400 thousand. How is the possible? It is the understanding that we may make shapes based on animals and plants, not just the possibility of our human form.
Essentially, while we are in the pose, we are thinking of the shape of the “thing” – the crane (such as baka-asana), the serpent/snake (bhujangasana), or even the warrior (vira-bhadra) brave – skillful (skillful in bravery = warrior)
Krishna encourages Arjuna:
"Let your concern be with the action alone,and never with the fruits of action. Do not let the results of your action be your motive, and do not be attached to inaction."
Allow your mind to let go of the shape and enjoy the journey and experiment with what feels right for you without holding onto the comparison or the need to ever get into a specific pose. Remember, there are 8 million ways to move and be still.
When we allow the mind to become calm and clear by letting go of attachments, our relationships to people or things are no longer bound. Now, go clean out your closet.