The second yama of the Yoga Sutras is satya, which means “truth” or “honesty”. (See a summary of the yamas here.) Most basically, don’t tell lies! In the realm of concrete actions, this is straightforward. We take responsibility for our actions and mistakes: “I overslept,” rather than, “I got stuck in traffic.” It’s therapeutically uncomfortable on the ego, but ultimately refreshing.
But what about the realm of thoughts and feelings. “Does this look good on me?” Are we obliged to say “no”, even when we know it will hurt? Richard Freeman opines that the first yama, nonharming, should trump truthfulness. Yet sometimes truth must be spoken, though it is painful, to relieve a greater harm.
But there is more to contemplate here than questions of etiquette. We must know what the truth is before we can choose to tell it, or not. How can we recognize the truth? Our eyes and ears can easily deceive us. Our minds are deeply biased by evolutionary filters and personal history. How do we know we are in contact with the truth, rather than what we want to be true? There is no formula to follow, because a formula is an abstraction that glosses over the irreducible messiness of reality.
I (Nick) think the deeper work of satya is not a precise accounting of true and false, but rather an ongoing commitment to discern, however imperfectly, what is true for us in each moment. We seek to know reality, even when it is painful and disruptive to our self-image. In fact, this one way to describe the goal of yoga.
Patanjali describes the result of perfecting the practice of satya: “For those grounded in truthfulness, every action and its consequences are imbued with truth” (2:36, trans. by Chip Hartranft). When we act in congruity with our true nature and the circumstances that life presents, our actions become an express of truth, and therefore anything we do or say will come to fruition. Satya becomes a siddhi, or yogic power; perhaps not as fancy as levitation, but probably more useful.
This month at the studio, we’ll explore what it means to be truthful in our yoga practice, as well as how yoga can help us find our ways towards this mysterious thing we call truth. Come see what we’re up to!