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Yoga Philosophy and the Yoga Sutras. Satya

Updated: Nov 5, 2023

The Yamas: part 2. Satya - Truthfulness

What does it mean? Satya guides us to think, speak and act with integrity. Seeing and communicating things as they actually are, not as we wish to see them. Practicing satya requires staying open to truthfulness in the present moment as it reveals itself.

Complete honesty with ourselves requires us to create a little bit of space, stillness, slowing down, filtering and the careful consideration of our words so that when we choose them, they are in harmony with ahimsa, the first Yama.

Our thoughts, emotions and moods are extremely interchangeable, yet these are the things that create our own truth and our whole life experience. We need to be honest with ourselves first, only then can we be honest in any other part of our life. We often identify with our emotions and irrational thoughts, “I am not good enough because...” and it is exactly these fluctuations of the mind or vrittis[1] which we aim to still through Yoga. What we say has the profound power to affect our consciousness. When we aren't being truthful with ourselves, we become disconnected from our higher selves.

Once we become more aware that we are not our thoughts, space is created between who we think we are sometimes; the ego and who we really are; the True Self. Learning and accepting that all emotions and situations come and go helps us come to terms with the fact that life isn’t as complicated as it might sometimes seem. Patanjali states that by continuing to practice honestly, our life experiences become the result of this honesty and truth and are no longer based on fear or ignorance.

Satya is about being vulnerable and transparent, demonstrating integrity and openness. It is recognising that all beings are interconnected and are one and the same, all struggling with the human condition, all struggling to evolve. It is then that we cease to defend and protect our egos and transparency and vulnerability become more natural.

[1] The word vritti means vortex or eddies, a circular activity with no beginning or end, swirling round and round. They are essentially a sensual impression, a thought, an idea, a conscious mental state.

Putting it into Practice. Being truthful is something appreciated by everyone. However, there needs to be a balance; acting with compassion for others is also important. The Sutras advise that if being honest in that moment is likely to cause harm to another, then it is best not to say or do anything at all. ‘Sometimes it is better to be kind than to be right’. Observing the motives behind our actions and asking yourself “will it truly serve the other person or am I doing this because of a need to prove something or gain something?” is a useful tool to help us apply both satya and ahimsa to our daily situations. Looking inwardly we learn to recognise the fears and negative emotions that prompt us to twist reality. By understanding and processing these fears, thoughts and actions we can be realigned with truth. Looking outwardly, we can refrain from telling lies and speak with kindness, compassion and clarity.

Practicing asana with satya in mind can be very similar to applying ahimsa. It’s the dishonesty within ourselves that can often cause physical pain by ignoring or pushing past an injury or limitation. Our personal yoga practice is meant to serve our bodies and minds, not harm our joints and ligaments. By letting go of the ego mind, we are able to see past our conditioned, ever changing and un-true ways of thinking and uncover a more pure and beneficial way of practicing and treating ourselves on all levels. One simple way of observing truth in our practice is paying closer attention to the breath; honesty requires listening to the breath in every moment and working with it, and never losing it.

There is a great freedom in being able to be who we really are, rather than hiding behind a mask of what others expect us to be. It allows us to be more spontaneous, more in tune with our creative intuitive side and ultimately more open to explore the deepest truth of all, Self Realisation. As we remove the layers of our conditioning, we expand our beliefs to allow new perspectives and as we clear inner spaces we catch more and more glimpses of our True Self.

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