Grasping Aparigraha

“Throughout college and my years in the army, I practiced racquetball in much of the same way I would later practice yoga: I made a study of it. Toward the end of this time I was watching two advanced players. The younger one was rushing about. The older one seemed to play with very little effort. He just took three steps, then hit the ball, three steps, three steps. The older gentleman was winning every point despite the effort the younger man was exerting. Although I was also very young at the time, it was still clear to me that the junior player thought he had to make the game happen and the older man knew the game was already happening. He simply needed to find his place in it.” — Rolf Gates, Meditations on Intention and Being

If I could sum up everything I learned over the last few months in New Zealand in one word, it would be this:


For those less familiar with the term, Aparigraha is the final yama and can be translated from the Sanskrit roots “a-” meaning non or the opposite of and “-parigraha,” meaning to amass, to crave, to seize and receive material possessions from others. It’s often understood as non-hoarding, non-possessiveness, non-grasping, non-covetousness and greedlessness. These yamas (and niyamas or “observances”) are essentially guidelines for the practicing yogi laid out by Patanjali that allow us to take yoga off of the mat and into our daily lives. The yamas are things not to do and thus are tools for restraining our behavior in order to achieve the state of yoga or “union” with ourselves, others and the world at large.

Rolf Gates explains it in this way, “Aparigraha is acting in the awareness that we are part of an infinite web of interdependence and that anything we need, or will need, will be delivered to us, not by our efforts at control, but by this infinite web. It is acting in the knowledge that anything we do to any part of the web of interdependence is something we are doing to ourselves.”  Let’s take noncompete agreements for example, if we withhold talent from a “competing” business, we are inherently also withholding it from ourselves. When we operate from a place of scarcity, hoarding, grasping and controlling for fear of there not being enough, all we breed is more scarcity. More want. More fear. It has the exact opposite of the desired effect. When we cling to what we “have” (or the illusion of it rather, since we never actually have anything), we do so at the expense of being open to receiving, thereby closing ourselves off from the abundant flow of life.

New Zealanders seem to be much more in touch with this concept and initially I was stunned by it.

Here’s an example: I realized I had booked my rental car at the wrong return location and when I phoned to explain this the owner said, “Okay, no worries.”

“Okay?? Just like that??”

“Of course just like that, it’s just two phone calls–one to tell Nelson that they won’t be getting a car and another to tell Marlborough that they will. Simple!” He says, dismissing my worries as if they made no sense at all. My life in America had conditioned me to believe that this had to be a really big deal. That mistakes meant struggles and that unexpected changes meant resistance.

It all seems to be like this in New Zealand. Everything is “no worries” around here. You’re late? No worries, I’ll just sit here and have a drink, enjoying the view. Our credit card machine is down and you don’t have cash for your bagel? No worries, I’ve got some extra change. You don’t have a ride? No worries, I’ve got an extra seat, hop in. No worries, no worries, no worries!

They realize the game is already happening, they don’t need to make it happen. So then there’s less struggling, less force, less grasping. And there’s more ease, more peace, more acceptance, more love.

So if life’s really this easy, why do we complicate it?

Because we FEAR it isn’t. We lack trust. And without trust we simply cannot practice aparigraha. So we hoard and control and orchestrate and nothing ever really works out for the better, does it? We view not just business, but also life through the lens of competition–even in the yoga world! Requiring our teachers to sign noncompetes and claiming ownership of photos and asana sequences and music, living from a place of scarcity. We teach the yamas and niyamas in our classes and then we step off our mats and somehow forget that everything we’ve just taught still applies.

Our yoga community is booming here in the U.S. It’s one of the (if not the) most developed in the world and yet I don’t think there’s any group of humans who categorically grasp (ha!) this concept of Aprigraha less.

What we all really need

is just to remember

that we are unlimited beings

receiving from an unlimited source

in an unlimited way,

unless we chose to believe otherwise.

From there, practicing aparigraha is the only thing that makes sense..

So trust that all is coming,

because it is.



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