What is Aparigraha?
What is Aparigraha?
This post is the fifth in a series of articles exploring the yamas and niyamas, the moral principles and qualities that form part of the philosophy of a “yogic” lifestyle. Stay tuned to our blog over the next few months to learn about each of the 10 concepts and how to integrate them into your yoga practice and daily life.
Yamas are ethical practices that help us create a pure, resilient, healthy lifestyle. The first yama is Ahimsa (non-harming); the second is Satya (truthfulness); the third is Asteya (non-stealing); the fourth is Brahmacharya (moderation); and the fifth and final yama is Aparigraha: “non-possessiveness” or “non-attachment.”
In Sanskrit, the word “aparigraha” has three parts. “A-“ means “non” – negating the meaning of the following phrases; “-pari-” means “from all sides” and “-graha” means “to grasp or take.” Altogether, the word means “non-clinging” or “non-grasping.”
This may sound similar to Asteya, or non-stealing, but there is a difference: Asteya is about not stealing or coveting the possessions of others, while Aparigraha is about letting go of attachments to things, people, emotions, and outcomes.
This yama is one of the more challenging ones to integrate into our daily lives, especially in the conspicuous consumption-based society of the Western world. At its most basic, Aparigraha means to keep only what you need now and let go when the time is right.
Does this mean throwing out all my stuff and living like a monk?
Living a minimalist existence works for some people, but it’s not a requirement for integrating Aparigraha into your life. Instead, try to be mindful of your attitude towards possessions. Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up offers the wisdom that you should not keep anything that does not bring you joy; surrounding yourself with only that which makes you happy is conducive to a healthy home environment. External clutter is also related to internal chatter – a home that is uncluttered can lead to a more peaceful mind.
Another way to practice Aparigraha is through moderation in your diet. Consuming only what you need for both food and possessions can help reduce waste and make you more mindful about what truly makes you happy. Next time you’re faced with a purchase, ask yourself: do you need it? Will it bring you joy?
What you need in terms of material goods changes as you go through different phases of your life; the amount of things you own will rise and fall as you move out of your parents’ house, become a parent yourself, move from place to place, and enter retirement. Aparigraha is about letting go of the things that you no longer need going forward.
Sounds simple enough…
Of course, practicing non-attachment to material goods is only the first part of this tenet; the second part is practicing non-attachment to people. Before you dismiss this idea and click away from this post, you should know that non-attachment to people is not about being detached or distant from them; this philosophy is not about letting go of love. Instead, practicing Aparigraha is about letting go of clinging to and control of others.
Clinging and control are about trying to obtain a specific outcome; when you don’t get the outcome you desire, you suffer. Instead, non-attachment is about offering love, kindness, and forgiveness without expectation of anything in return. Of course, it is important to still maintain healthy boundaries; Aparigraha does not mean offering unlimited leeway in unhealthy relationships.
When you give time and energy to others, evidence shows that it improves your mood and wellbeing. Giving comes back to you exponentially. The important thing to remember when donating time and effort is to let go of the outcome; if you give with an expectation of return, even if you simply expect admiration and gratitude, the giving can cause suffering if you do not get the reactions that you want. Practicing Aparigraha means doing an action for the sake of the action itself rather than attaching your emotional self to the outcome.
And about that emotional self…
Often, the greatest suffering we cause to ourselves comes from clinging and aversion to emotions. When we are sad, we desperately want to feel happy. When we are happy, we worry about it ending. But emotions, both positive and negative, are a part of life. Practicing Aparigraha means working on being present with emotions no matter what they are.
Remember: this is a practice. Not wanting a good moment to end or not wanting to feel sad is normal; practicing Aparigraha should simply help with maintaining more emotional equilibrium when life throws you a curve ball.
The breath is key to practicing Aparigraha. Breathe in both good moments and bad; enjoy great moments without worrying about them ending and try to experience the sad moments without trying to escape them.
Another part of Aparigraha is letting go of emotional baggage that weighs you down and does not serve you: resentments, judgments, restrictive opinions and beliefs. These things hijack your mental state and will wreck any attempts to establish a calm and steady mind.
The final aspect of Aparigraha is integrated with the first three – physical things, people, and emotions. Letting go of attachment to outcomes allows you to act without fear. For example, imagine working on a project at work without putting emotional weight on how people will react to the finished product. This doesn’t mean not taking stakeholders into account; it means not spending your mental energy worrying about them or what people will think of you. Instead, you can put your considerable mental resources into doing your best work.
This is especially relevant for creative people: focusing on the process instead of the outcome allows you to create without anxiety. Instead of worrying about how people will interpret your work or whether or not they will like it, practicing Aparigraha means putting all of your energy into creating for the sake of itself.
It is a great tragedy not to paint, write, sculpt, dance, or play in your chosen medium for fear of how people will judge you. This can also apply to everyday things like cooking. To practice Aparigraha, try making a meal without worrying if it will taste good – instead, focus on the process. Enjoy the fact that you are creating something nourishing for yourself or other people.
Aparigraha in your yoga practice
The safe space of your yoga mat allows you to practice things that can then be translated off the mat into your daily life. To practice Aparigraha while you’re doing your asana practice, try letting go of your attachment to the outcome of each pose. Instead of pushing yourself to “perform” each pose, focus on experiencing the shape within your body as it is in the moment. Your intention for an Aparigraha practice might be to stay present throughout, rather than trying to be better, stronger, or more flexible. Most importantly, keep your focus on a steady breath.
When you experience discomfort, see if you can stay present with that sensation and keep the breath steady instead of moving away from it by holding the breath. Also, remember that pain and discomfort are different things – pain, especially in joints, tells you that you should not be doing something, while discomfort, usually in the muscles, tells you that you may need more of what you’re doing. Learning to tell the difference and responding to those cues is an important part of developing your own practice.
Ultimately, consistent practice of Aparigraha can help you to live a life free of pointless anxieties. When you let go of attachment to specific outcomes and things, you can more easily focus on the moment; being present will help you recognize that change is constant, and letting go of clinginess and worry will help you maintain more emotional equilibrium. This practice will also support your confidence in your own ability to manage what comes instead of worrying about the future. Start on your mat, and then let this practice carry over into the rest of your life!