Satya : The practice of truthfulness in yoga

This is a follow up of my recent overview of ahimsa, the practice non-violence in yoga (for full post click here). In this post we will focus on satya or truthfulness. Satya is one of the 5 yamas of Patanjali, which gives us a set of universal qualities that yogis must adopt in order to evolve in their practice.

What does satya mean ?

Satya is the sanskrit word for truth. With satya Patanjali does not mean that we should consider ourself or our opinion as THE truth, but rather that we should aim to be truthful in our words, thoughts and actions. Pantajali insist on the universal characteristic of the yamas. We should view honnesty and authenticity as fundaments in all our interactions with ourselves and our environment, and this at all times and in all circumstances.

Truthfulness in our thoughts

You do not own the truth. The truth is universal. In the world of today, most notably because of medias and social networks, we are accustomed to people sharing their opinion at all times and about all kind of matters. Yogis must not fall into the trap of thinking that opinions and truth are the same thing. The opinion of someone might be valid, but a different opinion might be just as valid. We must strive for objectivity. We often lie to ourselves to accommodate the reality to our own believe system.

This is where meditation comes handy. During meditation we come to observe our thoughts from a distance. We get to see the bigger picture, without the distortions our our own believes. We see what is truly there to see without judgment. When we get out of meditation we usually see things with much more clarity and objectivity. We need to cultivate this state of mind. This is one of the reasons why the practice of meditation is so essential.

We might sometimes try to repress some negative emotions and pretend to ourself that everything is okay, thinking that this is going to make these emotions go away. But instead we should acknowledge them and accept them. It’s okay to feel anger, sadness, grief, fear… By being true to ourself, we begin to deal effectively with those emotions. We understand where they are coming from and what they do to us. Only then we are able to gain control over them and move forward.

Truthfulness in our words

We should always strive for honesty in the way we communicate with others. Lies cause conflicts and feelings of guilt, consequently, they bring us to a state of mental restlessness far away from the state of bliss that we try to achieve in yoga. We should always try to avoid lying.

There is a tight line between satya (honnesty) and ahimsa (non-violence), which is another principle of yoga. The truth can hurt. As we know, we sometimes tend to lie to ourself. The person we are talking to might be in this state of mind and hearing the raw truth might be quite distressing. Our speech should always be guided by empathy and kindness. We should always put ourselves in the shoes of the person we are speaking to. This is why it is necessary to choose our words carefully.

In some cases a lie cannot be avoided, depending on the circumstances. Sometimes telling the truth can have disastreous consequences and cause harm to us or to someone else. If it is to protect us or someone else, we might have no choice but to lie. In this case the principle of non-violence should however take precedence over honnesty. If a lie has no other purpose that doing good, then it should not be considered as a lie.

Truthfulness in our actions

Our actions should be in sync with the way we speak and the way we think. We should not do things that do not correspond to us. Of course this does not mean that we should never get out of our comfort zone, but whatever we do should be a reflection of who we truly are. Authenticity should be the leitmotiv of our actions and not the expectations of others or the weight of society.

Sometimes we just do things without really thinking of the consequences they might have on our environment or on ourself. We might be tempted to think that because everybody does something one way, there is no point to do it another way, because it will not make any difference. But we need to question our actions. According to the butterfly theory, the flapping of the wing of a butterfly can overtime be responsible for a tornado, meaning that the even the smallest change can have a huge impact. We should not be lazy and do things the easy way, we should do them the right way, the true way.

Truthfulness in our asana practice

“Yoga begins with listening. When we listen, we are giving space to what is.” — Richard Freeman

Being truthful in regards to the asanas has allowed me to progress much more than anything else in my practice. When I first started to practice, I used to rush the steps of the journey of yoga. Instead of working deeply on my foundations, I wanted to dive in and reproduce some of the amazing poses that I was seeing in books or online, regardless of my physical abilities. As a result I ended up getting stuck and not progressing at all or in the worst case I got minor injuries.
Do not fall into this trap. Be honnest about your physical abilities and give yourself the time that you need to develop the strength and flexibility needed for your asanas. Yoga is not about the final pose, it is about the journey to get there. Once you start to listen to your body and act according to its needs, you will start progressing quickly.

There are usually a lot of variations of an asana. I recommend you to always start with the easiest one and evolve from there to the more complex ones. This is how you will get a feel for the pose and what it acutally does to you. Do not try to rush into a pose. Give your body the time it needs to integrate the foundations first, because you will get much more enjoyment and benefits out of it.

Conclusion

As usual with yoga, it is important to realize that it is a practice. The yamas are guidelines to help us in finding the happiness that lies within us. If you cannot get everything right from the first try, do not get discouraged and abandon your goal. Use these guidelines as tools to help you to navigate in your spiritual path. You will not turn your life upside down in one day, but the more you practice yoga, the more you will gain clarity and your thoughts, your words and your actions will naturally align to the truth that lies within you.

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