The 8 Limbs of Yoga - Aparigraha

aparigrahastairye janmakathamta sambodhah
When we are established in non-attachment, the nature and purpose of existence is understood
YS II,39 translation by Alistair Shearer

The last of the yamas from Patanjali's 8 limbs of yoga is aparigraha - greedlessness.  And it's really difficult - it always has been, but is particularly so in modern Western life, whose economy is based on the accumulation of more stuff; and whose advertising industry spends millions on trying to make us feel that we lack something, or that happiness will be ours if we purchase that toothpaste, or this gadget.  The worth of a human being seems to be calculated on what they have and what they do for a living, rather than who they are and what they contribute to society.  Aparigraha describes everything that we are attached to, be they possessions, people, opinions or ways of living. 

In asana practice aparigraha might manifest itself as attachment to practising a certain way.  You might play with the idea of aparigraha in your practice by asking what you can let go of in your practice...  Your ego?  Your competitiveness?  Your fear/dislike of certain poses?  Or you could think about what you are attached to in your practice...  Being the best at forward bends?  Being the worst at forward bends?  Do you collect postures, moving onto the next new thing as soon as you have mastered a pose?

Injury gives us a great opportunity to work with aparigraha, because it shows us just how attached we have become to doing our yoga practice a certain way.  When we are injured we have to let go of what our practice looks like when we are well; if we want to recover, we are forced to work around our injury with sensitivity.  It can be so frustrating.  Or it can be an opportunity.  A chance to work in different ways, an opportunity to let go of mental images of what we do when we do yoga and to confront how attached we have become to being 'good' at asana.  

In pranayama, you can explore the idea of aparigraha by working with your exhale - it's the most basic physical form of letting go.  Have you noticed how you sometimes hold your breath when you are in a challenging posture?  As if you could keep it all together if you hold onto it hard enough?  See if you can let go through your breath throughout your practice.  Choose a really challenging pose, or one that you find mentally difficult (handstand?  full back-bend?) get yourself into your version of it and breathe...  just let go and see what happens. 

In life we all grapple with aparigraha.  We know that all humans have basic needs (food, shelter, security) and if we live in a country where we have these things we know we are lucky.  Beyond that, there are things that make our lives more radiant, more fun, more exciting (books, new clothes, holidays) and if we have access to these things we know we are luckier still.  Patanjali counsels us to be wary of becoming so attached to the stuff of life and to protecting it, that we forget what really matters and what our real purpose in life is. 

"Aparigraha is the subtlest aspect of yama and difficult to master.  Yet repeated attempts must be made to gain pure knowledge of 'what I am' and 'what I am meant for'"
BKS Iyengar, Light on the Yoga Sutras, p 153


  1. Hi,
    Incredible thoughts here on Aparigraha. So difficult to accomplish yet so important. We wrote a bit on Aparigraha as well, would be great if you chimed in in the comments section: My question to you is how would you explain utilizing Aparigraha in a relationship between a romantic couple? Can you separate love & attachment here?


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