This is part two of a 10-part series exploring each of the Yamas and Niyamas to discover how we can incorporate them both on and off the mat for a deeper, richer life of yoga.
Satya, the second of the 10 Yamas and Niyamas in the The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, means truthfulness.
“Does my butt look big in this?”
“Yes—enormous,” we may respond.
We often treat satya as a free pass to say and share whatever we like, but this is not satya. Because this is not truth.
When we start to practice satya we notice just how confused we have become about truth. For example, we may say with absolute certainty that an ex-partner is selfish. But were we to ask that ex-partner’s new spouse whether that were true—well … she would likely say how kind and selfless that partner is. Or, we may vehemently replay thoughts of how terribly a parent treated us, but years later, when reconciled, we will speak compassionately of that parent instead. Truth, by its very nature, is absolute. There is only one truth and it does not change. Everything else is just opinion.
That discernment between truth and opinion can change our world. Instead of taking our thoughts as concrete, we start to loosen our attachment to them. We begin to understand why others would disagree with our opinions. Indeed, we begin to disagree with our opinions. And we begin to observe the words that fall from our lips with more clarity.
In his book, The Four Agreements, Don Miguel Ruiz speaks of “being impeccable with our word.” The word is so powerful that “one word can change a life or destroy the lives of millions of people,” he says. Ruiz compares words to “spells,” and says we can choose whether the spells we cast bring love, or harm. As we keep practicing satya, we come to learn the importance of this point. We must be impeccable with our word, and use its power for good.
There is only one truth and it does not change. Everything else is just opinion.
This doesn’t mean we cannot express ourselves. Rather it is how we express ourselves that counts. Marshall Rosenberg, the father of non-violent communication, teaches us how to reflect our truth in a way that does not harm others. We can say how we feel, he says. We can say what we believe. So to say “I feel hurt,” is owning one’s truth and expressing it. But to say, “You are hurtful,” to someone, is an opinion that can add to a cycle of pain.
Like this, satya gives us back our power—not only by allowing us to express our truth in a manner that is positive for all, but also because it reveals to us that how we think about ourselves has been informed by the opinions and beliefs of others. People have cast spells upon us, and we have made them our reality. That is no one’s fault, but we no longer have to believe those opinions and labels. That teacher who told us we were dreadful at art? We are not. The parent who said we were lazy? Not so. The society that says we are not good enough? That’s just not true.
We stop believing the stories that have been written for ourselves, and for our world, and we start to write new ones.
By searching for truth we learn to stop adding to the suffering around us. How many battles have been spawned by a mere difference of opinion? And, as we begin our search for truth, so do we slowly begin our journey towards samadhi, the ultimate truth, and the eighth limb in Patanjali’s Path of Yoga. For, if we are not who we have been told, and we are not who we think are, then indeed—who are we?
3 Ways to Put Satya Into Practice
1. Right Speech
Before speaking, it can be useful to remember: THINK—Is it True? Is it Helpful? Is it Inspiring? Is it Necessary? Is it Kind? Try working with nonviolent communication, and commit to stop gossiping or oversharing.
The easiest way to know what to say is to listen to what the person in front of us is telling us. It can be helpful to ask ourselves in every conversation, “what would you have me hear?” Spending time in silence is also a wonderful way to undo the habits of mindless talking.
3. On the Mat
If we’re looking to be silent, the mat can be our perfect playground. And our yoga practice gives ample opportunity to hear our thoughts: “I’m useless at this posture. This class is too long. Her Om is off-key.” What would be truth here? Perhaps: “I struggle with this posture. I prefer a shorter class today. Her Om is, well … still off-key to my ears…” For we aren’t aiming to be saints—we are aiming to be real.
In listening to our thoughts we can begin to see clearly where we have been fooled by our opinions, and the opinions of others. To work with unblocking our expression, throat chakra postures can be wonderful tools. Ardha Matsyendrasana, Matsyasana, Salamba Sarvangasana, as well as Ujjayi Pranayama all work on cleansing this part of our energetic body. Finally, as we sit ourselves down for our meditation, we can move from satya into samadhi by preparing to learn the ultimate truth. It can be helpful to chant “Sat Nam,” I am Truth, quietly under the breath, before letting the mind fall upon the question Who Am I? And listening to the answer from the heart.
Join us next week as we explore the third Yama, asteya: non-stealing.
Helen Avery is a Section Editor at Wanderlust Media, working on the Vitality, Wisdom, and Wellness channels on Wanderlust.com and YOGANONYMOUS. She is a journalist, writer, yoga teacher, and full-time dog walker of Millie.