Our of our class themes is Patanjali’s 5th Yama from the Yoga Sutras, Aparaigraha, roughly translated as ‘Letting Go’ or ‘Non-Hoarding’. We can extend this theme beyond the Yoga mat into our wider lives in particular our homes – and the following piece may help.
Here’s an article I wrote for Spectrum Magazine in 2017 on too much stuff in our lives and the relevance of Patanjali’s ancient Yogic wisdom today.
I hope you find it helpful.
Rona, March 2018
Minimalism – is there a Sutra for that?
When we observe emerging movements and trends in Western society – the positive ones that is – it’s often good to refer back to Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. It never fails, because, needless to say, there is usually a Sutra for that, or the spirit of a new fangled intention is embedded therein.
Aparigraha & Minimalism
There are fascinating parallels in comparing the 5th Yama – Aparigraha, translated broadly to mean non-attachment or non-hoarding, with the modern day growth in Minimalism. Minimalism, is not to be confused with minimal, stark, white, feng shui home design. Rather, it is a scaled back slower paced minimal lifestyle, in pursuit of joyful experiences rather than living with the burden of processions – ie: stuff – or excessive debt that can disturb our inner peace. So fascinating are the parallels between Minimalism and Aparigraha, they could be the study of something much wider than this article, a mere scratch of the surface.
Patanjali’s labour of love – a work of remarkable contemplation and succinct to the core – was worked out and catalogued in a form possible for it’s day, a millennia or two ago. Meanwhile in the Western world, we bashed our way through civil wars, the growth of international trade, the industrial and now th
e technological revolutions – mostly in pursuit of economic growth. And, we’re good at it. During the post WWII years, a period of unprecedented economic growth has taken place with the combined value of goods & services in the UK quadrupling since 1948. Whilst there are inequalities and injustices, personal growth can come from economic prosperity, however what also arises are the ills of consumption, including acquiring and hoarding too much stuff in our lives.
Whether Patanjali specifically meant non-hoarding in Aparigraha, or a broader intention of non-attachment and restraint of greed, is a matter of debate. However, it is striking that one of the symptoms of too much consumption today is – hoarding. Hoarding, which can in turn makes us unhappy, constrained and financially drained.
Encouraged by affordable imports, we can acquire stuff to the point where we struggle to spend time enjoying them. We often endure too many hours at work trying to pay for acquisitions in the first place. And, rather like an unused gym membership, we can feel a growing sense of disappointment or guilt if we do not utilise our possessions or allow them pile up unloved.
The accumulated weight of too much stuff in the home can clutter our mind and suppress our creativity. It can stall us from planning and enjoying experiences, often because we are stuck in a cycle of sorting and tidying. Unless there is a neat cataloguing system in our homes – a pipe dream for many and a cash cow for those selling storage systems – we often knowingly or unwittingly buy something we already have. And so, the cycle of over-consumption continues, the hoarding of stuff builds, and as far as Patanjali’s wisdom is concerned, our inner peace is lost.
The essence of Patanjali’s Aparigraha – was, like all the Sutras, to prepare or clear the mind for higher states of consciousness. Indeed, the goal of modern day Minimalism – is to free us up to enjoy life’s experiences, which is strikingly similar. Minimalism pops up in many guises over the years, through the lifestyles of the Shaker communities in the 1700’s, the Danish approach to life of Hygge, and in literature, such as Thoreau’s Walden, where simple living in the woods or living ‘deliberately’ is celebrated.
Modern Day Advocates
Recent advocates of Minimalism are to name a few – Marie Kondo author of the worldwide best seller ‘The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying’ and internet bloggers & film makers The Minimalists aka Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus. Interestingly, neither of them present any ‘storage solutions’. Advocated at the heart of their writing is one single common theme – a complete letting go. Discarding, throwing away and moving on. Whist this may seem like a depressing read for the environment, discards are encouraged in the form of gifts or charitable donations.
Those familiar with Marie Kondo will know her mantra well. This is to question does this item ‘spark joy’ in your life? If the answer is yes, then keep it – simple! If not – donate it away. To deal with the hurdle of sentiment, Kondo recommends de-cluttering mundane items first like paperwork, books and clothes. Letters and old birthday cards are dealt with last, so the tidier does not become ‘stuck’ in a box of old memories. She nevertheless questions the need to hold onto such keepsakes as the sentiment, including the spirit of the person who gave you a kind message, is ‘stored in your heart’.
The Minimalists advocate a wider approach which includes a gradual letting go of the rat race, including step changes like selling your home to pay off debt in exchange for renting and downsizing your accommodation. Again, they call for discarding unwanted clutter and acquiring less in the first place, reducing the need for a larger home. A theme they work on is financially adjusting your spending along with your salary expectations by scaling back responsibilities or hours at work, or switching to a lower paid job which will help you enjoy life.
Like Patanjali’s Yama Aparigraha – the essence of Minimalism is in pursuit of a life enriched with experiences, including more time with family, at a pace that is more conducive to mindful living. The idea of being present in our lives comes up again and again, only if we adjust our liabilities, consumption levels and the hoarding of stuff.
How does this resonate with you in Yoga? It is often fun to spot what you have already worked out through your practice, and Patanjali’s Sutras remain a reassuring signpost that you are following a meaningful path. Would Patanjali be precious about Aparigraha being referred to in part as Mimimalism in the modern age? We may never know, however the spirit is the same – to create the conditions to clear our minds for higher states of consciousness, or in the case of Minimalism, the right foundations to follow life’s experiences over the acquiring or hoarding possessions, every time.
Marie Kondo The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying : A simple and effective way to banish clutter forever, April 2014 https://konmari.com/
The Minimalists Joshua Fields Millburn & Ryan Nicodemus http://www.theminimalists.com/
Office for National Statistics : Long term growth of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in the UK
First Published Spring 2017 for ‘What’s On’ the British Wheel of Yoga Scotland Regional Newsletter
Published Summer 2017 for Spectrum : The Magazine for the British Wheel of Yoga
Published Autumn 2017 for Yoga Scotland Magazine
Rona Main │Qualified Yoga Teacher │ BWY Teaching Diploma