The Second Yama…

In this blog series we’re exploring the basics of yoga philosophy, and how to make them relevant to our everyday lives. This month we’ll look at the second Yama or universal observance, which is Satya, or truthfulness.

Truthfulness. Seems pretty obvious, right? We all know that honesty is the best policy. But like its forerunner Ahimsa (non-violence), if we dig a little deeper we discover a wealth of hidden meanings within this simple concept.

Like Ahimsa, the practice of Satya begins with ourselves – it’s difficult to make progress in any endeavour without first honestly acknowledging where we really are. This applies to all aspects of life – if we want to improve our financial situation, we first need to take an honest look at our debts and spending habits. If we want to enhance our relationships, we have to acknowledge what we bring to the table, both the helpful and the challenging. If we want to develop our fitness levels, it’s no use kidding ourselves that the gym membership alone will do it – we have to actually go!

But if it’s brashly handled, honesty can cause pain, and so it has to be balanced with non-violence. An elderly relative suffering from dementia may happily believe that they are in their youth and surrounded by childhood friends, family and pets. Is there any kindness in reminding them that they are actually in a nursing home? Just because something is true, doesn’t mean it’s always appropriate to shove the facts in someone’s face. Asking ourselves ‘Is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary?’ is a good litmus test for when to speak out and when to remain silent, and so practise compassionate, benevolent honesty.

Honesty is the first chapter in the book of wisdom. - Thomas Jefferson

How else might we apply Satya to everyday life?

– On the yoga mat, by honouring where our bodies are today and not pushing beyond our limits.

– By being realistic about how much time is needed to complete a task, so we don’t over-stress ourselves and head for burnout.

– By acknowledging difficult feelings, rather than muscling past them – it’s ok to feel doubtful, scared, angry, depressed, anxious, jealous, frustrated – we’re human. Until we acknowledge what’s really going on, we can’t begin to address it and find ways to process and move on. It’s incredible how much power simply bringing such feelings into the light has to loosen their grip on us.

– By saying ‘no’ when we need to. If you’re an over-explainer, and feel that you have to give a lengthy (and maybe untrue) excuse as to why you’re turning down a request or invitation, try having a few phrases up your sleeve, such as: ‘Thank you, but I have other plans’; ‘I’m afraid that won’t be convenient’; or ‘I appreciate the offer, but I’m not taking anything else on right now’. It feels really good not to have to remember what you’ve said to whom!

– By being true to ourselves in the way we live. Life is short – don’t follow someone else’s script; be guided by your intuition and write your own story that feels authentic to you.

But the deepest level of Satya lies at the very heart of yoga. The word ‘sat’ comes up a lot in the Sanskrit texts – sattva, sat nam, satsang – and more than simply ‘truth’ as in ‘not lying’, it means ‘the true essence, that which is unchangeable’. The purpose of yoga practice is to learn to quieten the mind, to peel back the layers and gradually glimpse the essence of our being – the True Self – the enduring unchangeable. Every time you come to the mat or meditation cushion, every time you live your yoga, you engage in this process. As Krishna says to Arjuna in the Bhagavad Gita: ‘No effort on this path is wasted, no gain is ever reversed; even a little of this practice will shelter you from the greatest sorrow’.

And honestly, who doesn’t want some of that?

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