Aparigraha is the idea of non-grasping. We’re talking about the synonyms of grasp, not the antonyms of grasp! I promise this is not an English lesson on the proper use of terms. Bear with me. Here are a few synonyms for grasp: hold, grip, clinch, clench, clasp, grapple, clamp, and lug. In yoga, Aparigraha asks us not to (fill in the synonym of your choice) thoughts, emotions, actions, ideas, people, things, situations, memories . . . that no longer serve. Translation: let go of anything that keeps you from realizing your own true nature. Learn to let go. Move forward to realizing your own true nature. Learn self-awareness to find your true nature.
Number 5 Aparigraha caps off the list of the five Yamas with an interesting twist. After we consider all the nuance around the other four Yamas, we come to Aparigraha. The Yamas ask us to study our thoughts, words and actions, that we might be more self-aware. And then, Aparigraha reminds us to not hold too tightly to what we perceive. Not to cling, even to our own self-awareness. Does this remind you of the odd phrase, “moderation, even in moderation?”
The five Yamas
- Ahimsa – non-violence
- Satya – truthfulness
- Asteya – non-stealing
- Brahmacharya – non-excess
- Aparigraha – non-possessiveness
Each Yama can be taken as literally as the Sanskrit translations allow. But a study into the Yamas, as a group, reveals that each Yama is more complicated than its direct translation. Aparigraha is equally vexing. When we are working on living a yogic life and trying to move forward on our spiritual path, “letting go” seems risky. We cling to our yoga practice, we hold tight to our need to be better practitioners of yoga. Easing up, letting go, and softening are all a hard sell to a dedicated yogi.
To release or to restrain
The root of Aparigraha is in the term “Parigraha.” Parigraha is greediness and possessiveness. The “A” in Aparigraha indicates it is the opposite of Parigraha. That points to Aparigraha as a form of self-restraint. We release excessive internal and external attachments. We restrain from achieving anything by way of harm or destruction to other sentient beings. We release the need to take possession. Aparigraha asks us to hold the reins lightly.
To reach or to grasp
The poet Robert Browning wrote a 267 line poem titled “Andrea del Sarto.” Fortunately for him, part of one line is recognized by millions with no interest in (or knowledge of) poetry. It is this:
Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp,
The end of suffering
Five mindful ways to practice Aparigraha
- Watch your internal dialog for words like: always, never, all, nothing, must, should
- Be aware of feelings of envy and jealousy
- Make a gratitude list. Include people, things, gifts, and accomplishments.
- Examine your goals with an eye for the purpose behind your striving
- Adopt a short breath practice: inhale and say to yourself “I am,” exhale saying “enough”
Five ways to develop this discipline – the Niyamas
- Saucha – purity
- Santosha – contentment
- Tapas – disciplined use of our energy
- Svadhyaya – self-study
- Ishvara-Pranidhana – surrender and devotion to a force higher than yourself
As the first of the 8 Limbs of Yoga, the Yamas set forth a challenging list of social and ethical restraints. With the second of the 8 Limbs of Yoga, we are presented with the help guide: the Niyamas. The Niyamas assist us with needed personal discipline and self-study. It is through the Niyamas that Aparigraha can be recognized. Then, with our complete yogic practice we are able to compare and contrast what is real with what is the conditioning of our personality. We come to realize we are able to reach for our own true nature, our own limitlessness, Or what’s a heaven for?