The second yama, or restraint, offered by Patanjali in The Yoga Sutras is Satya: truth, truthfulness, honesty. Satya guides us toward truthfulness of thought, truthfulness of speech, and truthfulness in deed. In practicing satya, it is of utmost importance to always hold in our minds the first yama – Ahimsa, non-harming, as the truth can sometimes be perceived as harmful or hurtful.

Ahimsa is the foundation of a yoga practice and we are meant to carefully consider our speech & actions to be sure that they will not hurt another. Some texts say that if the truth has any potential to harm, then we should remain in silence. The culture we live in today places a special emphasis on each of our “need” to express ourselves, the “right” to get things off our chests. However, it is worthwhile to take a step back and examine this phenomena, so that we may first develop a habit of examining our motivations, and asking ourselves if what we have to say might be hurtful.

In his book “How To Practice,” His Holiness the Dalai Lama describes the “verbal nonvirtues” as described in the Buddhist tradition. They are “lying, divisive talk, harsh speech, and senseless chatter.” This instructive quote indicates that useful speech in not only true, but also gentle, helpful, and unifying. The word yoga means “union” and we use our yoga practice to build connections, stability, and growth in our bodies. To speak in accordance with our yoga practice, our words must also build connections, establish stability, and create potential for progressive moment.

Being honest with others requires first that we are honest with ourselves. Sometimes this is not so easily done. Each of us has had many years to acquire habits, patterns of perception, and beliefs which work together to color our understanding of any given moment. Our goal in the practice of Satya is to slowly eliminate actions rising from those superficial patterns of behavior and perception, and to increase actions rising from our deepest core. So, we aspire to go beneath learned fears and assumptions and to reside instead in our mostly deeply held Truths. We aspire to think, speak, and act in accordance with our highest aims and beliefs. Imagine that even if every moment were caught on tape, we would not feel chagrin or regret regarding our actions.

Of course (let’s be honest, afterall!), the truth is not always easy to face. Sometimes, the truths that we most need to recognize are the very same terrifying and painful truths that we are subconsciously working to ignore. Recognizing and acting in Truth can require incredible courage and faith; yet even when frightening, it is a profoundly liberating experience.

Methods for practicing Satya:

  • Meditation – Meditation is an act of directed inner listening which guides us to observe “what is” rather than “what we wish was” or “what we think might be.” This quiet act of gaining awareness of our own inner truth is very instructive in making peace with the truth of our bodies in asana practice, as well as making peace with the truth of “what is” in the world around us. Even if you do not have time or inclination to sit quietly for 5, 10, 30 minutes – it is still valuable to try what Erich Schiffman calls “conscious pausing” – as often as you remember in the course of a day: stop, pause, relax the mind and listen inwardly. It is a momentary meditation which can be quite grounding.
  • Ask yourself being speaking – In her wonderful book “Living Your Yoga,” Judith Lasater offers three questions that we can ask ourselves before speaking: “Is it true? Is it necessary? Is it nonharming?”
  • Observing truths and non-truths around you – In our social, professional, familial, and casual relationships we are exposed to many different comfort levels with truth. In some instances it is easiest to act in Truth around those we are comfortable and familiar with. Other times, an casual interaction with a grocery clerk can give us an opportunity to begin to develop new patterns of behaving without feeling self-conscious. Observe moments when you feel most tempted to exaggerate, justify, or otherwise step away from your Truth. Awareness of these patterns can help to slowly release their grasp on our behavior.
  • Set your standards high – We aspire to think, speak, and act in light of our highest aims and beliefs. So, we must first begin to observe how much of what is said is “not really meant” or considered an “inconsequential” non-truth. When we meet a friend on the street we ask “How are you?” “Fine!” they answer quickly. Even on this simple level, we are cultivating social interactions based on society’s expectation of well-being and productivity, rather than on a sensitivity to how we or others are actually feeling.

    Sarcasm is another, very prevelant example. Sarcasm is one of the most common forms of (so-called) humor in our society. Sarcastic jokes are very often told for a cheap laugh at the expense of another, even though the jokester mostly likely “doesn’t really mean it.”

    When we aspire to think, speak, and act from a place of Truth, we will find that even these relatively minor non-truths establish patterns of accepting less from ourselves which are unsatisfactory. Gradually, we can develop the courage, creativity, and compassion to create newer, truthful patterns of expression.

"Our worst fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our Light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, “Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented and fabulous?” Actually, who are you not to be. You are a child of God; your playing small doesn’t serve the world. There is nothing enlightening about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We were born to make manifest the glory of God/the Divine within us. It is not in just some of us. It is in everyone and as we let our own light shine we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.
As we are liberated from our own fear our presence automatically liberates others."
~ Marianne Williamson

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Updated January 10, 2005