Becoming a Better Consumer through Aparigraha

For many years, I only looked at yoga as the physical practice, asana. It was during yoga teacher training when I learned about the five yamas (avoidances) and five niyamas (observances) that are outlined in the “Yoga Sutras of Patanjali”. Yoga is a lifestyle, one that extends far beyond the hour that you spend on the mat during class. Digging into these principles has encouraged me to think deeply about my actions and how I can have a positive impact on the world.

One of the yamas that I have been reflecting on recently is aparigraha, the principle of non-possessiveness. Before the pandemic hit and stores closed, I went shopping nearly every weekend. I loved browsing in stores, feeling fabrics, and smelling candles. While I have questioned my shopping habits over the years, I realized that perusing the aisles of department stores or taking my time in TJMaxx to find the latest discount on Free People was relaxing to me. There is something about being in a crowd but not necessarily with the crowd that I enjoy. Shopping was a joyful experience, whether I came home with bags or not.

Then, everything closed. Then, things opened again, but it wasn’t the same. Today, I don’t feel comfortable wandering in a store for a few hours with no purpose. I definitely don’t feel comfortable smelling candles and taking 20 minutes to decide on which ones to buy. This in-store experience of relaxation and joy no longer exists.

I thought I’d become a more typical millennial and start shopping more online. But I didn’t. In the past few months, I haven’t felt motivated to buy clothes online. Scrolling through pages upon pages is just not as fun. There is nothing to touch, nothing to smell, and no one to talk to. Most of all, I realized that I don’t need anything. These days, I mostly wear pajamas or yoga clothes and I don’t wear shoes in the house. Whenever I look in my closet, I see so many pieces that I haven’t touched in months.

And this is where aparigraha started to kick in for me. All of those weekends when I was out shopping, I was seeking something. I’m starting to think now that I wasn’t seeking possessions on my shopping trips. I could return empty handed or settle for buying an oat milk latte and still feel like I had a solid trip. While it’s unlikely that I’ll return to my routine until there is a viable treatment/vaccine for coronavirus, being thrown out of my routine helped me to realize something important.

Now that I’m spending more time indoors, I’ve been looking closely at the things I do have and deciding if I need to keep them or let them go. In the past few weeks, I’ve sold clothing on Poshmark and recycled other items that I no longer need. Letting go of things I don’t need feels freeing. I know the day will come again eventually when I’m living life to the fullest – both in and out of the home. I know that I will be tempted to fall into my old patterns. But I also know that I have this experience of self-reflection to look back on.

When I shop online now, I ask myself a few questions: Do I need this item? Do I have anything similar to it? Will I use it more than once? Will I use it every day? If it sold out in the next two minutes and was removed from my cart, would I be mad or would I just let it go? Is there something else I want more that would make more sense to purchase?

It may seem like a lot questions, but these questions help me to consume mindfully. They keep me from buying things I’d only wear once or things that likely won’t last more than a few washes. Becoming a better consumer is a journey, one that I’m starting to enjoy. And what makes it even more exciting is how I’m able to practice yoga off the mat in the process.