Laid-back or Lazy? Practicing Asteya

Island dwellers frequently say, “relax, we’re on island-time”. Island-time? I’ve come to the (perhaps cynical) conclusion that on St. John, “island time” is justification for being late.

One of my teachers, Judy Baker cautioned us as yoga instructors about the importance of practicing asteya – “non stealing” – when teaching public classes (in a gym or studio).

Most yoga teachers are familiar with another class starting within 15 minutes of the end of their class. And and along with the class on your heels comes another teacher and students. Teacher and students are itching to get inside the yoga space (studio). And inside the studio, where you (perhaps correctly) think your students want to stay in savasana for longer than the class timeslot allows. Also inside the studio with us are our students, who have other commitments after our practice time together concludes.

To exceed our allotted time in such instances is effectively stealing the next teacher’s pre-class integration time and stealing our students’ post-class transition time to their next activity.
So Judy’s lesson was to practice asteya by behaving mindfully of other peoples’ time around their yoga practices. In short, start and end your classes on time. And this lesson extends beyond the yoga studio. Even to islands.
Anytime we keep someone waiting, we are “stealing” their time and placing our own experience above theirs. There are always reasons and excuses for running late...but the flip side of our running late is that someone else is waiting for us.

So to the island-folk, on the United States territory of St. John, where the culture is primarily molded by the US mainland, and inhabited by once mainlanders- running late to deliver water, perform maintenance, discuss joint business ventures, meet with prospective customers, or any other interaction – it is not in the spirit of asteya to keep another person waiting. Even couched in the disingenuous....”sorry, running on island time here”.
Islanders’ message back to me is probably....relax, have a pina coloda. However, I no longer buy it! I believe it's an excuse for laziness.
Having consideration for others is a universal trait of good manners and compassion in the culture of the United States. No amount of sand, water or palm trees changes that value.

This is not to say that we should be “on time” at all costs... life happens, and it is not always possible.

However, timing (like teaching a class or showing up for a meeting) that is within our influence is most considerate when treated with the restraint (yama) of asteya.

Book suggestions, with explanations of the yamas and niyamas:


chas said...


i think it is important to temper the yamas and niyamas with a bit of cultural relativity, otherwise we run the risk of becoming cultural imperialists, yoga nazis as it were. time is very relative and flexible in the natural world...the whole concept of hours, minutes, seconds is an invention that required centuries to complete. of course now we have nano-seconds...

and in island communities, there is just a much larger influence of the natural timescape...remember that in the natural world the sun itself runs a little later every day for six months straight, before it shifts course and runs a little earlier for the next half of the year. and look at the moon! it runs 45 minutes to an hour later every day!

another way of looking at asteya in this situation is in regard to the culture of the place you are now spending a large part of your time. is it in the spirit of non-stealing to tell people that their cultural relationship to time is wrong, laziness, a sham, and that they must give it up and adapt to your own sense of time?

it's not just islands that we're talking about here, either. the majority of the third world is much looser about time than the americans, europeans, and the japanese.

even here in the boston area i find a great flux in the health clubs where i teach i begin the classes to the minute, and end them as such. in the dedham studio where i teach i regularly start and end class 5 minutes late, because i know that is the culture of the studio. if i started on time it would stress everyone out...just as it would cause stress if i was late at the studios.

i hope you are enjoying your life in the islands, and i hope you grow to accept the time thing and learn to adjust your life to the more relaxed tempo. it's a strange paradox: when we relax about time we can't pack as much into a day, and the days begin to feel fuller than ever!