Satya or truthfulness, seems almost impossible to write about. I started thinking about Satya as meaning ‘the Truth,’ and, truthfully, I became totally stuck. It seemed like a very daunting task and my initial thoughts wound up in the virtual waste basket.
Fortunately, Satya is about seeking to ‘be truthful’ rather than seeking to uncover ‘the truth.’ Phew! This makes it more personal and slightly less intimidating. Searching to be truthful with ourselves and with others leads us to questions such as ‘Who am I?’, ‘How am I?’ and, ‘What is my experience today?’ Such questions are not simple but tuning into them can guide us on our mats and in our day-to-day lives.
Connecting truthfulness with non-harming
The Yamas and Niyamas are the ethical practices of yoga, offering teachings and questions on ways to ‘live our yoga.’ Five Yamas, or restraints, outline the ethical boundaries of yoga and an equal number of Niyamas, or observances, offer disciplines to create and guide our freedoms. I wrote earlier about the first Yama, Ahimsa, which calls us to be non-violent or non-harming. Ahimsa is foundational to yoga, meaning that all yoga practices including the truthfulness called for in Satya, must be approached in ways that pair it with non-violence or being non-harming.
On our mats
Being truthful and non-harming as we practice yoga can be challenging. It is easy to push ourselves on our mats to learn new poses and accomplish ones that may not good for us. We may try difficult poses that harm our bodies or hold poses too long, bringing dishonesty and self-harm to our practice. Here, we may question, do we bring the spirit of Ahimsa and Satya to every pose and to every practice? How can we change the way we approach yoga to be more truthful and less harming to ourselves?
We are not isolated on our mats: we are always connected with teachers, fellow practitioners and perhaps followers. Here, we may question judgements we bring to these associations: Are we resisting poses presented by our teachers? Do we feel certain poses are not helpful to us? How can we acknowledge difficulties we have with certain poses and what we can learn from our struggles with them? For example, I struggle with backbends such as Fish. Rather than questioning the teacher for leading me to poses I may feel are not helpful, how can I learn more by practicing them? What is it in such poses, and in myself, that makes me experience them as so difficult?
Seeking truthfulness on our mats can mean paying attention to changing truths presented by our bodies and minds during each practice. Are we experiencing changes due to injuries, fatigue, boredom or fear? Would we benefit by supporting our practice with props? Are our bodies and spirits calling for a more, or less, active practice today? In what ways are we truthful about what we bring to, and need from, our yoga practice?
In our day-to-day lives
Satya means ‘actively becoming the truth of the Universe.’ As an ethical practice on its own, it seems almost impossible. But, space opens for us to work on truthfulness when we temper our approach to Satya with Ahimsa’s intent to ‘do no harm.’ Here are some examples of the value of these connections:
Telling ‘the truth’ is not always easy. It is common for us to want to hide how we feel and what we think from ourselves and from others. We might do this to create understandings we wish were true or to spare pain for ourselves and for others.
Combining Satya with Ahimsa calls us to consider several questions before we state what we feel is truthful. These questions are: Is it true? Is it necessary? Is it kind or non-harming?
Some understandings we may see as ‘truths’ may be harming to others and it may not be necessary that they are shared. Examples are opinions about another person’s clothing or hair-cut. Using the above questions, our thoughts on these matters might be true to us, but we must also consider if it is necessary that we share these thoughts and if doing so would be kind. Considering Ahimsa and Satya together may lead us to make a judgement to not share our opinions. We might say nothing or we may change our comments to something that is true but is also non-harming.
There are areas where our opinions and what we believe to be true may be necessary to share in order for us to be kind and to be non-harming, even if some disagree with us. Examples are comments on issues related to inequities and injustices such as racism, colonization, sexism and homophobia. In such situations, our choice to share what we believe to be true is necessary and it is kind. It reduces harm to those affected by the inequity or injustice. In such situations, Satya and Ahimsa call on us to be truthful.
So much to learn and unlearn. The many teachings of yoga can guide and lead us to contemplate and act on things that truly matter.
Deborah Adele, The Yamas & Niyamas
Judith Hanson Lasater, Living Your Yoga
Let your mind and body relax as Casey guides you in bringing awareness to your body, your senses and visualizations. Plan to rest comfortably throughout the class, experiencing stillness and emerging refreshed!
By Casey Ready