Sometimes people can feel intimidated by yoga and yoga lovers who can bend themselves into knots - but that's not the yoga ethos. Satya, Sanskrit for 'truthfulness', means it's about living your truth, what works for you.
A couple of weeks back, I went a little deeper into the first of Patanjali’s Eight Limbs of Yoga. The ‘yamas’ are the first of the eight limbs and you can read a short note on each of the five yama’s here.
Then, we delved a little deeper into the first of the yamas ‘ahimsa’, which you can familiarise yourself with here. Today, we are looking at the second of the yamas – satya or truthfulness.
So, what do these ‘yamas’ have to do with the yoga we practice on the mat?
Really, this is where it all begins. One of the first steps towards awareness. While on the mat, practicing yoga, you can easily become distracted at first. By the person next to you, noises outside the room, that piece of fluff on your leggings that you noticed while in downward facing dog and, as you wonder where in the hell that piece of fluff even came from, you find yourself wandering down the rabbit hole of miscellaneous thoughts.
As you practice more and more, however, you begin to get less distracted and move more towards being completely focused on what’s going on internally at any given moment. Physically, mentally, emotionally.
You begin to notice how you’re feeling or reacting to your physical abilities. You begin to notice if you are forcing yourself into a pose.
You begin notice if you get mad at yourself for not touching your toes today when, for some reason you were able to yesterday.
You begin to notice if a class that you went bouncing into has brought up emotions that make you want to skulk home and close the door to the world. Just for a little while. You begin to notice whether the words and actions you project to the outside world match your true feelings. You begin to notice whether or not you are being true to yourself at any given moment.
Satya off the Mat
So satya, which can be translated from Sanskrit to English as ‘truthfulness’, means more than simply ‘not telling lies’. It’s about living your truth.
Firstly, look at your speech and the language you use from day to day. Say for example you see a dress in a shop window that’s not quite to your taste and you say to your friend - that dress is ‘disgusting’. Is it really ‘disgusting’? Does it fill you with ‘disgust’? An inanimate piece of clothing has the power to fill you with ‘disgust’. Or is it simply a dress that you, personally, wouldn’t really wear? Which is the truth here?
Learning to decipher between the words that you are so accustomed to using and what you actually believe and then marrying the two brings you closer to living your truth.
When you really assess your thoughts, you might come to the realisation that a dress that’s not to your taste doesn’t really affect you in any way.
There are far more extremes in this world that have the potential to fill you with disgust that aren’t really on a par with a dodgy dress, are they? Your opinion is your opinion only, formed around a set of beliefs years in the making. That dress we’re talking about in reality is not ‘disgusting’, it may be a dress you wouldn’t really like to wear but it is a dress that somebody else would like to wear and they therefore, have a completely different opinion on it.
Flip the situation and put yourself in the position of your friend looking in the shop window with you. She likes the dress. She now feels embarrassed to admit it because of how emphatically you announced how ‘disgusting’ it is, which, wasn’t even really true.
Regularly using overly dramatic, negative language that we may not even mean can, more often than not, cause unnecessary harm.
Can we say we’re practicing ahimsa (non-violence) here? Do you see how satya (truthfulness) and ahimsa (non-violence) overlap? Practicing satya is like practicing honesty with compassion. Speaking your truth – "That’s not really a dress I would wear" while being considerate of your friend who already has the credit card out at the till.
Knowing that everything we say, we believe to be ‘our truth’ we start to look at what is ‘our truth’ and how can we speak it, mindfully. The yamas and niyamas from Patanjali’s Eight Limbs of Yoga represent ways in which we can build a better relationship with the world around us but also, with ourselves. If we learn to be honest with ourselves, it’s a stepping stone to living truthfully.
Consider how we sometimes speak to ourselves. "My house is a mess – I’m a disaster", like you’re a bad person because your home is untidy that one day a visitor drops by without calling. "I forgot my keys – I’m a moron".
The Oxford dictionary defines the word ‘moron’ as ‘a medical term denoting an adult with a mental age of about 8–12’. Is that you because you forgot your keys? We can begin to believe what we say about ourselves and others without realising the weight of the words we are using. See if you can catch yourself doing this. Notice how you feel. Do you really mean what you’re saying?
Satya on the Mat
The yoga mat is where we can discover if we are being truthful with ourselves. This is where it begins. As we proceed to develop our asana practice i.e the physical practice of yoga, we open up towards gaining a greater understanding of ourselves – our thoughts, our emotions, our reactions.
Time spent on the yoga mat is time spent getting greater insight to where we are at mentally as well as physically. There is absolutely nowhere to hide!
Engaging with satya on the mat can help prevent injury first of all. When not being true to oneself, there is a tendency to push through a physical limitation just to complete a pose. Who are we doing that for?
To impress others? For ourselves? To satisfy the ego? Is it worth it? Are we practicing ahimsa (non-violence) here also? Our minds can take over and tell us we should be able to do certain things when, in reality, we’re just not ready. It’s ok – you’re not a bad person or inadequate because touching your toes is a challenge.
Aside from the physical, there’s the mental and emotional side of things. We can get angry at ourselves for getting distracted while meditating or not being able to do a posture we could easily do last week. Being ok with where we are in our practice can lead us to being ok with where we are in life.
Continuing to strive for perfection in yoga will lead to more striving.
You may finally perfect a certain pose that you had been working on but there will always be another pose or layers within that pose beyond its appearance that you hadn’t even considered.
Equally in life, working towards promotions in work, wanting that big car to ‘keep up with the Jones’s’. When you get that promotion, when you get that car, then what? On to the next potential promotion? A bigger house?
Take a look around you. Your family, your friends, a roof over your head and regular meals... Being ok with where we are makes life a little easier, don’t you think?
Easing through yoga, easing through life offers a certain ‘flow’. It’s ok to have goals and objectives but learning to stop and appreciate what you have already achieved and accepting where you are right now without judgement or the need to be somewhere else is being true to yourself both on and off the mat.
A good indicator of whether or not we are being true to ourselves in yoga is the breath. Listening to the breath can tell us if we are forcing ourselves. If it becomes strained, quick or shallow, the breath is suggesting we back off a little.
This may make a little dent in the ego but, as a yoga teacher, I rate protection from injury over protecting the ego. And in life, you get that gut feeling, don’t you? That quickening of the breath, the rumbling in the tummy that says ‘don’t go there’. Learn to listen to yourself.
We grow with our yoga practice and, as we become more familiar with our physical abilities and more aware of what’s going on in our minds, we can begin to become more honest with ourselves and live more truthfully both on and off the mat.
The way towards practicing satya is to learn how to slow down and quieten the mind. Using yoga and, in particular, meditation can help quieten the racing mind so that what really matters can begin to find its way to the surface. Then you can begin to watch your thoughts and filter them. What is coming to the forefront of your mind every time? And why is that?
Begin to analyse what your mind is showing you and you will get to know you a little better.
Remember that what you’re beginning to learn about yourself is solely your beliefs and perception of the world around. Your own reality. Different to that of others. You will become skilled at observing before passing judgement on others, on yourself, on situations.
I’m not implying that you can never make a judgement on anything. How would you ever be able to make a decision?! It’s more about pausing, assessing and speaking/acting mindfully in line with what is your truth.
So go do some yoga. See what happens…