Aparigraha: Embracing Non-Possessiveness and Letting Go


Embracing Non-Possessiveness and Letting Go - By Louise Horne

Reading time: 5 minutes

The last but perhaps one of the most profound Yama - Aparigraha teaches us about the mental exercise of letting go rather than creating a physical attachment to our possessions and an excessive eagerness to possess. The need to hang onto things often stems from a sense of lacking or ‘I am not good enough’. When you are greedy, you feel you deserve more. But when you have deep within you a sense of a self-reliance, you identify with your true essence and envy or greed begin to fall away, so we can give to the universe, not take from it.

Aparigraha Sanskit Meaning:

Non-possessiveness | non-attachment | non-greed | non-grasping | non-hoarding | non-clutching | non-receiving (although being alive and awake we are always receiving, so maybe non-taking would be a better description? | non-holding | non-gripping |

Not possessing anything which is not you. Finding stability in non-grasping. 


Aparigraha Sanskrit Translation:

In Sanskrit, the prefix "A" is often used to denote the negation or absence of a quality. The "A" prefix indicates the absence of "parigraha” (grasping).

“Parigraha” can also be translated as ‘to put a fence around it’ perhaps we can think of this as trying to own it, possessing it, not letting anyone else in. The term "Parigraha" encompasses the idea of mentally grasping or holding onto things. In the context of spiritual teachings, "Parigraha" is considered a hindrance to inner peace and liberation, while "Aparigraha" is seen as a virtue leading to freedom from suffering.

Aparigraha in The Sutras of Patanjali:

Sutra 2.39: This fifth Yama is outlined in Yoga Sutras 2.39, Patanjali states: "Aparigraha sthairye janma kathaṃtā sambodhah," which translates to "When non-possessiveness is established, knowledge of the why and wherefore of one's birth comes."

sthairyae- steadfastness steadiness
janma - birth; production; re-birth
kathaṃtā - wherefore
saṃbodhah - understanding  

The practice of meditation to cultivate non-attachment is one of the core teachings of yoga philosophy. Sutra 2.39 suggests that by practicing Aparigraha, one can gain a deeper understanding of the purpose of life and one's place in the universe. Aparigraha encourages us to cultivate contentment and detachment from material possessions, desires and attachments.

It teaches the importance of living a simple and unburdened life, free from the pursuit of unnecessary wealth or possessions. By practicing Aparigraha, individuals can overcome the tendency towards greed, hoarding and attachment, leading to greater inner peace, freedom and spiritual growth.


Aparigraha in The Bhagavad Gita:

Aparigraha as a concept, is not explicitly mentioned in the Bhagavad Gita however, the principles underlying Aparigraha, such as non-greed, non-attachment and contentment are reflected in various verses throughout the Bhagavad Gita. For example, in Chapter 2, Verse 47, Lord Krishna advises Arjuna to perform his duty (dharma) without attachment to the results: "You have a right to perform your prescribed duties, but you are not entitled to the fruits of your actions. Never consider yourself to be the cause of the results of your activities, nor be attached to inaction."

Similarly, in Chapter 3, Verse 16, Lord Krishna highlights the importance of performing one's duties without attachment: "My dear Arjuna, one who does not follow in human life the cycle of sacrifice established by the Vedas certainly leads a life full of sin. Living only for the satisfaction of the senses, such a person lives in vain."


Aparigraha in ‘Seeds of The Sutras’ by Di Kendall

In this book, Aparigraha is described as non-coveting and when the Yogi no longer has physical needs, he ceases to covet the possessions of another, and gains knowledge of his/her own birth. The old saying that Man has many wants, but few needs, applies here as we learn to discriminate between possessions and the things we really need. This applies not only to possessions, but also to other people ideas and theories.  Aparigraha may begin as a conscious discipline, but gradually leads to the absence of all but one desire - to know the Self.


Aparigraha and Swami Nithyananda:

Describes Aparigraha as the key to existence. Subtle layers of non-possessiveness. For a few seconds can we un-clutch ourselves from possessing our mind, or even our body? He describes possessiveness as like a blanket you put over your body; any problem you have in the body gets caught in it and he believes you hold on to disease through this possessiveness, so he encourages us to have the courage to remove this blanket and allow the body to realign itself.

Like magnets that align themselves, the body will find its way – your digestion system will excrete as it should, a new joy and wellness will develop. This is ultimate yoga. Wakeful Aparigraha. He describes how possessiveness is directly linked to the digestive system and that these are some of the deepest mystical secrets of life. Anything which is not you – choose not to possess it.


Aparigraha and Plato (Greek philosopher - 400 BCE):

Plato believed everything in the world has a purpose or role to play and that this world operates based on the idea that there are perfect, ideal forms for everything and each thing in our world is a reflection of these perfect forms. So, if we take Plato’s philosophy that we each enter this world with a calling, perhaps our soul has a guiding presence that is not our ego – a soul companion. We do not arrive empty in this world. This ‘’guide’ is the carrier of our destiny. So, are we cared about from our existence comes into being?

Greed is self-servicing; it wants and desires. Feelings of envy are a sign of greed, a lacking in empathy and compassion. Greed is never satisfied, it is ruthlessness but once we begin to grasp the understanding of our role as Plato describes it, or that we each have a soul’s code to crack and unravel we can begin the discovery of what important work we should be achieving in the world, the reason we were born (our purpose, Dharma).

Once we have interpreted this and unearthed our mission, there is no desire to grasp and grab and that greed and desire simply steal our energy. Devotion builds strength and protects our intelligent flame that leads to the truth within.

The translation of "parigraha" to mean "put a fence around it" suggests the idea of building a barrier around ourselves. We think we are creating a safe bubble but what we are actually doing is limiting our possessions or thoughts, boxing ourselves in.


This ‘greatest wish’ which is stored in our soul seems to get lost along the way as we develop and grow and become influenced by the world we live in,and greed begins to show up. Yoga happens when this possessive activity ceases – we withdraw from what we identify with. Then we find our essence, a uniqueness, given to us by the source (Svarūpa: self-form, true form, essential form or figure).

When the mind is busy (Vrittis) we are identifying with our thoughts but once the ego accepts there is something else providing guidance, then we can start to see the idea of the ‘greatest wish’ in greater context and envy and greed begin to fall away, as we give to the universe, not take from it.


Apari-graha Relevant quotes:

“Do you practice, and all is coming”   K Pattabhi Jois
“The places where you feel the most resistance are actually the places that are going to be the areas of greatest liberation”   Rodney Yee
“Let your concern be with the action alone and never with the fruits of your actions. Do not let the results of your action be your motive and don't be attached to inaction”  Krishna

Understanding how Apari-graha applies to everyday life:

As you practice asana, when you feel you have had enough do you immediately come out of the pose? Does this mean you are hoarding your energy, if so, why? With appropriate rest, energy is renewable. Savasana is attention to rest – give in to the relaxation as seriously as you gave yourself to your balance posture earlier in the class.

The stillness will come, know that we always come back to rest, space and breath. Move with abundance. Avoid the need to achieve a particular shape, simply practice for the love of it, without forcing yourself into injury. Let the body unfold naturally, in your own time. Practice feeling a sense of freedom, self-reliance and contentment without holding back effort or energy yet seeking balance between steadiness and ease (Sutra 2.46: Sthira-Sukham Asanam)... give everything and shine in each pose.

Open your eyes, make contact with the person next to you... Smile at them. Release all feelings of judgement, jealousy or competitiveness.

A kind and gentler world starts from within. Allow light, positive energy to shine from your heart.

Going back to one of the translations of "Parigraha" to mean "put a fence around it" suggests the idea of building a barrier around ourselves. We think we are creating a safe bubble but what we are actually doing is limiting our possessions or thoughts, boxing ourselves in. It takes aggressive strength (Parigraha is considered a masculine word in Sanskrit) to build and defend boundaries, to hold on tight to things which can create feelings of hostility; that's my favourite colour, he's my friend, for example.

It's common for us to cling on to various aspects of our lives, whether they serve us positively or negatively—be it people, habits or thoughts/ideas. Consider a habit you dislike about yourself; it's often challenging to let go of such patterns. We tend to grip onto things tightly but aparigraha encourages us to hold onto things with an open-hand.

The looser our grip, the less attached we become, making it easier to release harmful elements while allowing us to avoid suffocating the things we cherish. Living in the moment allows things and people to come and go, without the need to possess them.

Release all expectations – this is one of the keys to happiness. Being attached to your idea of how your plan will work out, or how your day will go will often lead to disappointment. Be fluid, go with the flow – change is the only constant we can expect in life.  How often do we worry so much about the outcome that we don't even find pleasure in the preparation and effort that builds up to the event or even the event itself?

Try to detach your mind from thoughts of worry, stress or chasing and grasping at happiness. Don’t possess the past, don’t possess the future, don’t possess the present moment... this moment can never be repeated. Let each moment be what it is without either trying to cling on to it or pushing it away. Tune into your inner guide, find satisfaction in every moment without allowing the mind to get greedy and always want more.

Are we over attached to our food, do we stuff ourselves full when 80% full is perfect as it allows space for the body to digest what you have eaten and leaves food for others. We all have clothes we don't wear and yet we buy more. Do we try to possess other people? Are we attached to repetitive thoughts looping round in our mind? Are we attached to clutter and possessions or buy new things to make us feel momentarily happy. What do we need to release... perhaps start with anything we have not used for one year, when we are comfortable with that, perhaps reduce that to 6 months...

Do we seek out drama and conflict every time life seems calm, perhaps because we think we need attention? Do we appreciate the friends and relationships we have or are we always seeking new?  Often these actions originate from feelings of inadequacy or a belief of not being good enough and when we think we are lacking, we want to take, so let’s shift this perspective to ‘what can I give’.

Practicing from a space of friendship and know that whatever we think we lack, we have kindness and love. You are good enough, you always were, you always will be. You are perfect just as you are. Kindness, sympathy and love are abundant and renewable, and they will always circle back round to you.


Apari-graha Yoga Practices:

As we strive for non-attachment, the first step is to let go. Easier said than done I know, but with each gentle breath we deepen our thoughts into the idea of releasing attachments. By relinquishing attachment, we begin to bring our awareness to the impermanence of life. Trusting in the universe, this acceptance gives us the freedom to live in the present, without clinging to any moment or feeling, simply existing fully immersed in the now.

With a gentle movement of our bodies, we reconnect with the present, carrying its essence into the rest of our day. The practice of meditation to cultivate non-attachment involves the ability to let go and remain open to new possibilities.

The yoga teachings emphasize the importance of letting go, releasing tension in the body and calming the mind. When the mind becomes overactive, it often manifests as tension in the body. This gripping can lead to knots (Granthis) in the muscles, injuries and mental frustration. Bodily tension is often accompanied by shallow breathing in the upper lungs. By learning to let go, we can release this tension, allowing us to respond, not react to life's challenges.


Apari-graha Body Awareness Practice:

Begin by intentionally creating a sense of grasping in the body, gradually increasing tension before slowly letting it dissipate. Try it now with your shoulders - simply hunch your shoulders, lift them up to your ears, squeeze them upwards and hold for a second or two. Then, with all of your consciousness in your shoulders very, very, very slowly lower them, notice how they relax and soften.

Pandiculation is the term used to describe this type of movement - a combination of consciously contracting, releasing and slowly lengthening muscles. It is performed in a slow, controlled manner and is helpful for reducing tension, increasing awareness of muscle sensation and improving overall freedom of movement. This exercise helps cultivate the quality of non-grasping, enabling us to let go of physical and mental tension more easily.


Apari-graha Breath Awareness Practice:

Incorporating breathwork into this practice further enhances our ability to let go.

In this exercise we will intentionally hold the breath after inhaling (Antara Kumbhaka) and/or after exhaling (Bahya Kumbhaka) for a little longer than usual to create a subtle tension in the body. This intentional pause allows time to observe the breath, as well as to develop greater awareness and control over the respiratory system.

Softly close your eyes. After your next inhale, hold the breath for a moment longer than usual before exhaling slowly and fully, feel your belly contract. Option to take a slight pause after the exhale before inhaling again fully, slowly. Try for a few rounds - you are not trying to hard, nothing is strained or feels uneasy. Then resume a steady and relaxed breath pattern.

By emphasizing the exhale, we learn to release the hold on tension and anxiety, allowing for a more balanced and tranquil state of being. This practice enhances our ability to let go as well as other effects on the body and mind, including increasing lung capacity, improving concentration and focus, calming the nervous system and promoting relaxation.

NOTE: It's important to approach breath retention with caution and under the guidance of a qualified instructor, especially for those with certain medical conditions or breathing difficulties.

As you engage in Aparigraha practices, observe how it feels to mindfully let go of physical tension and mental grasping, embracing the present moment with openness and receptivity. Through regular practice, we can cultivate a deeper sense of ease and flow in our lives, grounded in the understanding that true freedom arises from letting go.

Love and kindness,

David Garrigues Asana Kitchen
Seeds of The Sutras’ by Di Kendall


louise horne

I am a yoga teacher living in the very beautiful mountains of Monchique, Portugal. My aim is to teach yoga to everyone of all fitness levels in a space that is welcoming and friendly, where my students feel safe and supported. I teach weekly classes and host private and group retreats.