Owning up to the truth
Satya guides us to think, speak, and act with integrity.
Satya, the second of the five yamas, is one that invites us to contemplate notions of truthfulness or honesty. To begin doing so, our ability to reflect honestly on our inner life is key.
As children, lying felt bad. It was a physical sensation that arose immediately after we let slip a lie, no matter how small, that was cultivated mentally. However, as we grew into adults, we fashioned our own version of the truth and believed that merely thinking something was enough to make it true. This sense of dishonestly divorces our physical, emotional, and energetic bodies. Yet, the lies we tell ourselves can sometimes be the most damaging because we give them the power to imprison us.
Yet, the lies we tell ourselves can sometimes be the most damaging because we give them the power to imprison us.
Sometimes, we are prone to giving great weightage to the identities associated with us from our day jobs. Perhaps you work in the beauty industry and are expected to have flawless skin and show up to work with a full face of makeup. Maybe you work in the liquor industry and feel pressured to drink and entertain at every client meeting even if the alcohol is taking a toll on your body.
These are all versions of ourselves that others expect of us. But as you begin to free yourself of the labels society has put on you, you experience the freedom to be your elemental self. You’re comfortable going into work with minimal or no makeup. You’re comfortable settling for a glass of sparkling water even though your colleagues reach for another Old Fashioned. The performative self need not get in the way of what our elemental self truly needs.
Getting honest is a process. It’s uncomfortable for sure. It doesn’t give us room to hide behind the very constructs that we’ve put between us and the world. Take for example our time on the yoga mat. How many times have we pushed past a limitation or injury to force ourselves into a pose? This dishonesty with ourselves not only gives rise to physical pain, but also reminds us that we have forgotten to apply the yama of ahimsa, or non-violence, to our practice.
One way to assess if you’re pushing your body beyond its limitations is to observe your breath during asana practice. If it begins to be strained and shallow instead of steady and deep, it gives us a clue that our body is struggling to achieve what our minds want it to do.
There are also other instances where the yamas of satya and ahimsa go hand-in-hand. While we are encouraged to speak our truth, we should also ensure that our words do not have the power to hurt another. Through the lens of compassion and kindness, we consider if what we’re saying – even if it’s the truth – is necessary or useful for the other person. If it isn’t, simply hold back on an unsolicited opinion or criticism. Satya sits under ahimsa, making the latter the highest-ranking yama. Drawing our cue from this hierarchy, we are told to honour the principle of non-violence first and only tell the truth if it doesn’t cause harm. So before you speak, pause and ask yourself: Is it true? Is it useful? Will it cause harm?
Sometimes, the truth can be hurtful for a short time but eventually bring great benefit in the long-run. In these situations, consider how you can convey the truth with kindness such that it would cause as little harm as possible.
Conversely, we might one day find ourselves on the receiving end of the truth. How then do we respond? Our first instinct might be to reject the truth. We flinch because it hurts. We develop an aversion to it because it forces us to confront uncomfortable feelings. However, as we make room for the truth to settle in our lives, we can then begin to examine and understand why these truths have arisen. Have we developed an unhealthy relationship with money or power? Have we neglected our body for so long that it is now suffering from disease? When the doctor tells us that we have diabetes and need to change our diet completely, do we feel sad for the rich foods we have to give up or recognise the moment as a wake-up call and renewed chance at life? Indeed, when we are able to make peace with the truth, we begin the process of healing.