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yogi’s guide to public health: aparigraha

It’s almost as if Patanjali saw this moment coming. And if the yogic siddhis are all they’re purported to be, it’s quite possible he did…

Aparigraha, the fifth and final yama, concludes the first limb of yoga. The last injunction within the practices of restraint implores us to relinquish possessiveness. To stop hoarding, grasping or coveting.

When the San Francisco Bay Area (where we’re based) first went on lockdown, about three weeks ago, the yogic lesson that jumped to mind was aparigraha. Seeing our grocery store aisles picked clean, not a roll of toilet paper or bottle of hand sanitizer to be found, we couldn’t help but think of this instruction.

Why the sudden panic to stock up on dry goods? There’s a relationship between fear and scarcity, and both trace to an innate awareness of mortality. We hoard resources in an attempt to protect our own lives. And when we are afraid, making a thoughtful decision as to how many bottles of Purell we actually need is challenging. We feel, viscerally, that we will need them all to survive.

Yoga’s intervention then is to say, no, you don’t need to buy every last paper towel. Because if you do, there will be none left for your neighbor. And all the lip service we pay to being #inthistogether will be meaningless. Unless we actually act with the welfare of our fellow citizens in mind, we’re in this for ourselves. And yet the separateness and isolation we feel being relegated to our own homes is a daily reminder of how much we do value other people… So why do we forget that feeling when we see the few remaining canisters of bleach wipes?

It takes training. Yoga is a practice of moving us out of our default, unconscious modes of being and elevating us to a more altruistic, communal plane. Shifting our sense of self from the individual to the collective, from the finite to the infinite. Because in recognizing our connection, our interdependence, we find happiness, ease and freedom. 

Training ourselves to leave resources available for our neighbors isn’t easy, but an even more challenging practice of aparigraha is to stop grasping for a life we don’t have right now and may not have again. 

How many of us are white-knuckling this lockdown? Holding on as just as long as we have to, until we can revert back to life as we once knew it?

Aparigraha pushes us to an uncomfortable, unfamiliar mental place where we stop clinging to ideas of and memories about how it’s supposed to be.

It’s not supposed to be any one way or another. There’s a way it was. There’s the way it is now. And there’s the unknown way it will be in the future. Not grasping to our opinion of how things should be allows us to experience how things actually are. Only when we accept this new reality and uncertain future are we truly in the present moment. And only there can we be of service.