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yogi’s guide to public health: asteya

The interconnectedness of humanity — which we believe is a good thing — has never been more certain than with the outbreak of COVID-19. It’s powerful to recognize and powerful to work with. the spread of this virus shows us that our own small actions do make a difference.

Timely then is Patanjali’s third ethical instruction: asteya or non stealing. “Non stealing” is an awkward phrase — because the first five ethical injunctions of yoga are restraints against harmful action: don’t hurt people, don’t lie to people, don’t steal from people, etc. Another way to consider asteya is as a practice of preserving other people’s resources.

What, technically, is a resource? Typically resources fall into two categories: tangible or intangible. Roughly put: money or time.

Tangible resources include physical goods that, generally speaking, cost money to produce, buy and sell. Our inventory of Hyde clothing, for example, is a tangible resource. Hopefully, not stealing tangible resources is something we’ve all practiced long before we ever rolled out a yoga mat or heard of the sage Patanjali. But just in case, here’s a reminder (it couldn’t hurt):

• When you’re in line at the pharmacy picking up advance refills of important medications, do not steal things.

• When you’re roaming the mostly barren aisles of the grocery store looking for toilet paper, do not steal things.

Got it? Okay good.

Where Patanjali’s instruction becomes more rich for consideration is in the treatment of intangible resources, such as time. As the experts explain, this virus is moving quickly. The practices of stringent hand washing, social distancing, etc. required to “flatten the curve” are essentially an effort to “buy some time” for our medical system.

COVID-19 is a respiratory illness without a cure. Severe cases will require a ventilator to assist with breathing, and there is a limited, finite number of ventilators in any given community. Experts believe the number of ventilators available will be insufficient unless we can slow the progress of the virus’ spread.

You can do your part to ensure that medical resources are available to those who need them — in other words: not steal from those who need them — by practicing social distancing and alerting your doctor if you have concerning symptoms.  Considered in the light of asteya, these practices are all efforts of preserving time — our most valuable resource in the fight against COVID-19.

Some local governments, including the San Francisco Bay Area and our home of Marin County, have now ordered people to “shelter in place.” Whether your community has such an order or not, by diligently staying six feet away from other people and staying home if you feel sick, you protect the health and wellbeing of others. Your actions at this time are nothing less than an effort to not steal other people’s most precious resources: their health and ultimately life itself.

Yoga was designed to transform lives. Let’s use it preserve them too.