When I was a kid, I was always told by my parents and teachers to not tell lies and to be truthful, otherwise there would be some consequences (whether it is standing in the naughty corner, scolding, or perhaps additional chores). We were taught that truthfulness is to not lie. However, as I grow up we realized that truthfulness means more than just ‘no lies’ and this is probably the start of my understanding of Satya. Being truthful seemed to consist of preserving the truth but also careful handling of how it manifests in our speech and actions, such as to give a constructive feedback than a blunt criticism. There is also the part about being truthful in my thoughts and to myself, which I was not used to. I have always set high expectations for and been harsh on myself whether it is to be a role model to my younger sibling, to excel in my work and studies, to be strong and take care of my family, to watch out for my friends. It is still a work-in-progress for me, however as I start to understand and apply satya, life has been a lot more meaningful, peaceful and fulfilling.
What is Satya?
The eight limbs of yoga are yama, niyama, asana, pranayama, pratyahara, dharana, dhyana and samadhi. The first limb, Yama, means abstinences, which can also be understood as self-regulation. There are a total of five Yamas – Ahimsa (non-violence), Satya (truthfulness), Asteya (non-stealing), Brahmacharya (self-control) and Aparigraha (non-possession).
2.36 Satya prastisthayam kriya phala ashrayatvam
Today, we will focus on what is Satya and how to actively practice it in our lives. As mentioned, Satya is the second yama and means truthfulness, in our words, actions and thoughts. ‘Sat’ in Sanskrit means “the true essence” and “which is unchangeable”. Our thoughts, words and actions are easily changeable and form the experiences we have in our lives. If we start to understand this, perhaps we may realise that the stresses and challenges we face are due to our attention being focused on the constant changes, rather than the constant unchanging truth itself.
How to practice Satya in life?
- Being true in your words – the practice of satya is not about blindly speaking the truth without considering how it may impact someone else, or lead to other consequences. We should be truthful with our words, but also consider what is the intent? If there is no intended purpose, or worse still has a negative purpose, perhaps it may be better to not say speak at all. At the same time, we need to find that balance to dare to share the truth with others, and not to hold it back for the fear of hurting their feelings.
- Finding purpose – it is important to be true to yourself. We can practice satya, but asking ourselves what is our purpose in life? What are we searching for? There are two things you should avoid:
- Doing things you are not ready for. For example, pushing yourself to run 10km when you haven’t even ran in months or doing something due to peer pressure.
- Not pursuing something you want to pursue for fear of failing. For example, not pursuing teaching yoga because there are too many admin procedures to settle, or getting stuck in a job that you are unhappy with. This will result in you doing things you do not want to do, and that is not being truthful to yourself.
How to practice Satya on the mat?
- Set an intention – I like to always begin with setting an intention every time I step on the mat. You could ask yourself why you practice? Why are you on the mat today? Is there something you would like to focus on? At the same time, it a good chance to reflect and understand what kept you from arriving here, and how can you overcome that? It is important to be mindful and truthful to yourself before and after the asanas.
- Know your limits – when you feel discomfort or pain, it is okay to do a simpler version of the asana or skip it entirely. You are practicing satya by taking into account the signals your body is sending you and giving attention to how you can position your body to feel better.
- Use props – using props, such as a yoga block or a towel, is not something to be embarrassed about, neither does it make you a less adequate yogi. In fact, it shows that you are practicing with integrity and demonstrating satya, focusing on the asana and your current ability. So leave aside that competitive nature at the door, and use props the next time you are practicing yoga to help with the alignment of asanas.
Sometimes, these goals may seem too big and difficult to keep track of. Something I try to do is to take baby steps, focus on 3 things I want to achieve that week – in my daily life, I try to learn to say ‘no’ because I know it is my weakness, I try to not avoid something I want to achieve just because I am scared, and I try to be mindful of my words. Hopefully, in time to come, I can understand and practice satya at a deeper level. Keep practicing Satya, and it will soon be a cornerstone of your life.