Satya is the second of the five yamas. It teaches us to avoid deception and even though it’s an ancient concept, it’s more relevant than ever. It’s easy to spot deception in our modern world – yep, I’m talking about marketing and social media. Satya is a great way to protect yourself from the toxic side of these platforms. There are many interpretations of satya, but I’m going to focus on the two that have resonated with me the most; the power of truth and living authentically.
This is the second blog post in my series on Yoga’s Yamas and Niyamas. I began the series by discussing the first yama, ahimsa. That post also has a general overview of the yamas and niyamas. As a quick refresher, the yamas are yoga’s five teachings on avoiding toxicity. Here’s a graphic I made that shows the five yamas and their basic English interpretations.
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The niyamas come after the yamas, they are five teachings on achieving health and wholeness. You can find an overview of them in this post, but for now let’s talk about satya. As you can see, I’ve translated it as avoiding deception, but that is just the tip of the iceberg. Satya is commonly translated as ‘non-lying’ or ‘non-deception’. We all know that lying or deliberately deceiving someone is wrong, but satya challenges us to be honest with ourselves and true to who we are. I think this is particularly tricky for women, as we often default to being agreeable (i.e. overly accommodating), which means we lose touch with our true selves.
A Brief History of Satya
Like all of the yamas and niyamas, satya is a Sanskrit word. It means ‘truth’. It’s taught in all Indian religions, like Jainism, Buddhism and Sikhism, to mean being truthful in ones thoughts, words and deeds. Satya is an ancient concept that was first discussed in the vedas, (Rigveda to be specific) around 2000BC. It has been a central concept in successive vedic literature, the Upanishads and of course, Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. In yoga it is a yama and is therefore taught as a restraint, meaning one should refrain from being false or speaking falsehoods. Patanjali taught satya as a holistic concept that extends from your actions to your words and even thoughts. Satya has continued to be a prevalent concept in India, as to this day the country’s national motto is ‘Satyameva Jayate’, which can be translated as ‘truth alone triumphs’.
Mahatma Gandhi had a particular love for the concept of satya. He actually coined the phrase ‘satyagraha‘, which is a combination of ‘satya‘, truth and ‘agraha‘, insistence, which can be translated as an insistence of the truth. He used this new phrase to identify an individual who practiced non-violent resistance as a ‘satyagrahi‘.
Truth (satya) implies love, and firmness (agraha) engenders and therefore serves as a synonym for force. I thus began to call the Indian movement Satyagraha, that is to say, the Force which is born of Truth and Love or non-violence, and gave up the use of the phrase “passive resistance”, in connection with it, so much so that even in English writing we often avoided it and used instead the word “satyagraha” itself.
– Mahatma Gandhi
The Power of Truth
Recently, my boyfriend and I have been watching some celebrity comedy roasts. Skillful comedians are able to talk about someone, (or a situation) and present it in a way that is refreshingly honest, and therefore funny. The ‘good’ comedians use truth to humble their subjects, whereas the sloppier roasts use it as a weapon and as a result, it quickly becomes uncomfortable to watch. We must remember that satya comes AFTER ahimsa. We have to first ground ourselves in compassion and non-violence, before we are equipped to handle the truth. If you had a Christian upbringing like I did, this idea will probably remind you of Ephesians 4:15 that teaches Christians to “speak the truth in love”.
I think we’re all usually pretty good at being honest and kind in our relationships, so I want to focus on how satya can improve your relationship with yourself. We’re usually quite polite to others, and too harsh on ourselves. Satya can help you to find a healthier middle ground. There are many ways that being honest with yourself improves your life. You have to use self-honesty in order to get to know yourself better, which over time truly enriches your life.
Here are a couple of examples.
When you know yourself well you have clarity over what you actually need and want. This makes you less vulnerable to trends, companies and influencers who profit from getting you to think you need their product. Buying something that you know will improve your life, is much more satisfying and healthy than accumulating stuff that just becomes clutter.
Being realistic about your abilities and needs creates more peace and harmony in your personal life. Setting reasonable goals and having realistic expectations of yourself, helps to ease procrastination, frustration and disappointment. I’m definitely guilty of thinking future Hannah will be more disciplined than current Hannah! Creating goals and plans that allow for rest, play and interruptions feels so much better, and is more productive in the long term.
It’s easy as women to default into being people pleasers. I find it challenging sometimes to stand up for myself and express what I actually think or want. We learn from a young age to be agreeable, and as we grow into adulthood this can have very uncomfortable consequences. Actively challenging yourself to be honest, instead of just being agreeable naturally fosters a newfound level of self-confidence and respect.
In Deborah Adele’s book “The Yamas & Niyamas: Exploring Yoga’s Ethical Practice” she discusses Bert Hellinger’s work on the Family Constellation. Hellinger explains that humans have both the need to belong to a group, and the need to grow and expand. Most people’s first group is their family, but there are so many more groups that you belong to. Your nationality, your culture, your sexual orientation, your religion and more. As long as your natural personal growth remains within the ‘rules’ of whatever group you belong to, there’s no friction. Problems start to arise when you feel your inner longing taking you away from that safe place.
Most people go through this at some point of their lives. I experienced it in my journey to veganism. Friends of mine experienced it when they came out as gay. Living authentically guides you towards choosing personal growth and freedom over your innate desire to belong and be accepted. Oftentimes, we simply outgrow our previous reality because of new life experiences. I think it’s healthy to update our beliefs, values and views as we learn more and gain fresh perspectives.
Authenticity is the daily practice of letting go of who we think we’re supposed to be and embracing who we are.
– Brene Brown
Re-framing Resolutions and Moon Meditations
So how do you employ more honesty and authenticity in your life? I’ve found that resolutions and rituals have helped me to connect with myself on a deeper level. Working with a therapist is also a very helpful exercise in strengthening an area of your life that you need help with. My therapist taught me a lot about the enneagram, which is a system of nine different personality types. In learning your type you can gain a more thorough understanding of your needs, tendencies, strengths and weaknesses. Besides working with a therapist, here are some ideas of how you can embrace satya through practical exercises.
Do you set New Year’s Resolutions? Being from New Zealand, I’m used to starting the year in the summer sun. Now that I live in Europe I’ve found it easier to change my ‘new year’ to my birthday, which is in July. I love that now when I set resolutions it’s for the year that I’m a certain age, and I get to start my year in the summer. Find a way to re-frame how you measure your progress. Maybe you prefer setting small monthly resolutions instead of annual ones, maybe you don’t work well with resolutions at all. Maybe your resolution could be to set realistic goals, not wishful ones. This is all part of learning to be honest and authentic with yourself.
Rituals: Moon Meditations
Rituals help us to start fresh and leave behind the dead weight of what no longer serves us. One of my friends recently introduced me to the beautiful practice of full moon and new moon meditations. The basic premise is that on the new moon you set fresh intentions for the month, and on the full moon you write down what you want to attract and what you want to let go of. You can do it sitting in the moonlight with candles, incense and music and make it a really beautiful self care exercise. I love this practice because I’ve found it so much more achievable than daily or weekly meditations. If you want to give moon meditations a try I recommend starting with one of the various guided full moon or new moon meditations on Insight Timer (it’s free!).
Thanks for reading this second post in my series on Yoga’s Yamas and Niyamas. I hope you’ve enjoyed taking this journey with me in exploring satya!
I’d love to hear from you, so feel free to leave me a comment. I’d also love to know, what part of satya interested you most?
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