Of all the yogic principles, the fifth yama — aparigraha (non-possessiveness)—is often the most challenging for me. It’s also the most powerful; when I’m able to practice it, my life improves dramatically!
If you’re familiar with the yamas and niyamas, you know they are guidelines for yogic living. I sometimes think of them as the Ten Commandments of yoga, as there are five yamas and five niyamas.
The fifth yama is aparigraha. Depending on the translation, aparigraha means non-possessiveness, non-attachment, or non-coveting.
Though the translations are slightly different, they refer to the same basic idea. I associate coveting with envy or perhaps wanting something I don’t already have. (You may have noticed that non-coveting is also one of the Ten Commandments.)
Attachment refers more to the inability let go of something I already have. This can include letting go of desire or a plan to accomplish or achieve something. Possessiveness can go either way. I can neglect to share something I own, or I can be possessiveness of another person. I may even try to control another person’s actions if I’m worried about how they may affect my life.
Why the Fifth Yama is a Challenge
If you’re on a spiritual path, you probably find yourself at odds with the world a lot. You may even feel as though you don’t measure up or fit in. It can get discouraging and depressing. When we’re attached to the ways of the world (and let’s face it, who isn’t at times?), we often suffer.
Even if we do live up to expectations, life can feel empty, tempting us to think that achieving more or fitting in more is the antidote to our pain. I do include relationships along with material possessions and career or academic accolades when I think of things that can trip us up. We all know someone who will do whatever it takes to make connections or achieve recognition.
When I find myself envying someone else’s life, it’s not usually because I believe I need what that person has. It’s because I fear there’s something wrong with me because I don’t have it. After all, society values these things. Shouldn’t that mean something?
Whatever the reason, when I recognize that feeling of “not enough,” I know it’s time to step up my practice of the fifth yama.
For me, aparigraha is most challenging when it comes to loss. Years ago, I lost a job I loved and cared about doing. More recently, a close friend moved away, and a yoga studio I treasured closed, leaving me without one of my favorite teachers for a while. And just last year, I had to move out of a home I loved. Accepting change and letting go is hard. But it’s also a clear opportunity for growth.
The Fifth Yama Simplified: It’s About Gratitude
Instead of thinking of aparigraha in terms of what not to do (don’t covet, don’t envy, don’t want what you do not have), I like to think of it as gratitude. For me, practicing aparigraha means focusing on the things I’m grateful for. And when I focus on those things, I realize there are many, which makes it easier to let go of the desire for more.
And here’s another awesome thing: Letting go opens doors to more! I’m now doing new and different work that I love. I have new friends and new yoga teachers, and my new home is cozy and much less expensive than the one I moved out of.
To appreciate these things, I had to let go of my former attachments. I also had to practice gratitude for the new experiences and people that came into my life. This is the power of the fifth yama. Less is truly more!
And, of course, I need to be ready to let go again…and again.