Asteya and Food: Generosity in Action

Apply the yogic principle of Asteya to your food for meals that nourish the soul and the Earth.

Emily Hightower is a past Wanderlust Festival presenter. For the 2016 lineup, click here.

This article is part of a series on applying yogic philosophy to food. Check out the previous article on Ahimsa and Satya

Our third Yama for food behavior is Asteya, which means “non-stealing” or “generosity.” Nature works in whole systems that can feed our every need. We “steal” from these whole systems when we take food without giving back to the Earth and to others. Asteya is like a garden pixie that coaxes us to grow things in our kitchen windows, set up a compost bin under the sink, and share stories over dinner with friends. Think of “Asteya for Food” as a wholeness practice in abundance consciousness. When we honor nature’s regenerative brilliance, there’s enough for everyone!

To make enough, nature reuses everything. To align with that intelligence I started composting, which has helped me shed at least 10 pounds of guilt with food. The guilt came from the “Clean Plate Club” we all grew up with. The club preaches that if you don’t finish everything on your plate, it goes to waste when you could be feeding starving kids in Africa. Enter struggles with hunger cues, portions, and scarcity! In reality, the Earth doesn’t waste anything. When food is given to compost, she turns it into living soil to grow fresh food. We’ve trained ourselves to toss food in disposals or plastic bags, which separates it from the whole food cycle.

In the United States, 30–40 percent of our fresh food goes to landfills while top soils starve from over farming. This is stealing from the Earth, the hungry, and from our own future health. To resolve this at our house, food scraps now save on chicken feed and generate fresh eggs. Talk about abundance consciousness! You don’t need land or hens to tap into this cycle; most cities have a curbside compost service. If yours doesn’t, here’s a perfect business for an eco-minded entrepreneur! (Check out my hometown example, EverGreen Events.)

We can go beyond our backyards to deal with under-valued food waste. Hunger is a real problem in every part of the world. Grocery stores and restaurants trash enormous amounts of fresh food. There is a misconception that vendors are liable if a hungry person becomes sick from their food donation. It turns out Bill Clinton signed a federal bill to protect us from that fear, but the myth endures. Asteya Yogis, how can we water these seeds of change together? Please share in the comments if you have resources and ideas.

Creating food together is Asteya’s favorite time to shine.

Watering seeds at home is the next tool for tapping into Asteya in our own lives. Everyone can grow something somewhere. A simple pot of herbs will do. When volunteer chives popped up in our garden this week, I became a little girl in awe with nature. Unlike the cut chives in the store, ours poke up with messy magic. Our greens burst with flavor and shapes we can’t eat all of ourselves, which makes Asteya so happy to see us share. We joined the local CSA to supplement my tiny garden. We’ll have bountiful boxes of local varieties that grow in wild shapes not suitable for grocery store’s waxy ideals. The perfectly shaped food selected for sale in markets reflects the abstraction and waste that separates us from nature’s expertly messy gifts. Energetically, conventional food choices and media imprint the idea that we have to be perfectly shaped to be valuable as well, when the real gift is our organic wholeness. We long to be part of instead of on display as.

Feeling pressure to look a certain way can create a need to sneak food. I remember as a Girl Scout hiding Thin Mints in my sock drawer. Each stolen bite was an off-the-record guilty pleasure. No one could tell me “no, that isn’t good for your figure.” Sneaking is a cue that we feel separate or judged. Like nature, we come in all shapes and sizes and are innately part of something larger than ourselves. When we forget that, we feel isolated instead of connected. When I face my shadow with occasionally sneaking food, I realize I’m stealing from myself and my family by hiding my real emotions. Being whole means embracing the full spectrum of feelings. We need the dirt, bugs, and compost to grow food just as we need to be real with vulnerability, loneliness, and boredom to inspire and create anew.

Creating food together is Asteya’s favorite time to shine. There is a current of abundance when we eat as a group. We crank tunes, we make a mess in the kitchen, we talk and taste and toast. We clean, compost, recycle, return, and relax. We are social beings, and food is a social act of vitality and stability. With spring comes potluck and BBQ season. What a bountiful time to host a potluck and see how Asteya can re-acquaint us with the vital current of food’s life-giving circle for self, soil, and community.

Join me to bring yoga’s light into your daily fare in Off the Mat Into the Kitchen online courses and retreats or visit for a map of the Yamas and Niyamas for food!

emily-hightowerEmily Hightower founded Ondalu to empower people to make holistic decisions for their health. Her integrative programs have helped thousands of people including Wounded Warriors, Teens, and Women in Crisis using yoga, nutrition, and nature. Emily guides in person, on retreat, or by Skype and is based in Carbondale, Colorado, with her husband, son, chickens, and huge dog.