Yoga Philosophy 101 - The Yamas & Niyamas: SATYA
Satya (सत्य): truthfulness, non-falsehood
"To thine own self be true, & it must follow, as the night the day,
thou canst not then be false to any man”
-Polonius, in Hamlet; Act 1 Scene 3, William Shakespeare
If you are honest & authentic with yourself & embody this in all you do you can’t then be anything but honest & authentic with everyone in your life.
When you are living your life in a way that is true to your intention & beliefs then you feel whole, you feel complete & aligned with the flow of life’s journey. You feel that you are enough. You don’t have to apologise for yourself.
Authenticity in Life & Dharma
How many of us do not let our true selves be seen?
In this world of constant competition to be on top, to earn more, to look good, to be successful; in a world of social media, instagram, perfectionism and editing of our lives to just let people see & hear us at our “best” (whatever that may be), no one wants to show their imperfections. But our strength is actually in our imperfections. People are much more open to us & we make stronger, deeper friendships when we are vulnerable with people around us, when we let ourselves be truly seen. But we live in a society that shames us deeply for not being perfect, for not having the right job, clothes, car etc. We live in a society that tells us that we are constantly lacking something, that we fall short but at the same time prescribes exactly how & what everything we do & be should look like; what success should look like. We can never really attain this ideal because it is constantly changing. Once we get close to it, it slips out of our grasp like water. We are all so wonderfully varied & different, each person with an idiosyncratic expression & embodiment of life that how could we all attain this ideal anyway? Success for one person may look & feel like failure for someone else.
The remedy for this is to foster authenticity in ourselves. The first step is to know who we truly are, which takes some work & introspection. Who are we? We are not the stories we tell about ourselves, or our teachers told about us, our friends tell or our parents.
The next step is to then accept & love ourselves as we are. To be grateful for all that we have & to cultivate the belief that we are enough, just as we are. This takes daily practice & reminding.
Authenticity is a challenging but worthwhile practice. Each day we can choose whether to be real & to let our true selves be seen. It means letting go of who we think we should be & wholeheartedly embracing who we really are, imperfections & all.
Also, how many of us are not following our dharma? Our truth? Our rightful path? How many of us are living the life our parents, teachers, friends or society want us to live? I have a friend who is an amazing artist but she works as an accountant because when she was going to University her parents didn’t think she could make money as an artist & suggested she became an accountant & because she’s also good with numbers she went that way. She is living someone else’s version & vision of her life. Her life is not her own & it scratches & chafes at her. I can see she isn’t content or happy. But she feels trapped by her choices & doesn’t know how to change. How many of us live our lives like that? Why do you think so many people have midlife unravellings? Because they suddenly wake up & realise that they are not living the life they want or need.
If you would like to read more about this, read this wonderful article by researcher Brene Brown here https://brenebrown.com/blog/2018/05/24/the-midlife-unraveling/
Truth in Words/Speech
Truth does not mean saying whatever we like. We have to be kind with it, practicing ahimsa. When people troll others on social media often their response when they get called out is that they can say whatever they want because of “freedom of speech” but what about kindness? Just because you want to say something doesn’t mean you should.
Word vomiting at someone because you feel angry or hurt might help you feel better for a little while but it will hurt you & your relationships in the longer term.
Don’t gossip. No matter what it always hurt the people involved & who wants to be the person who gossips? We all know someone who can’t keep a secret, who has to tell everyone. This erodes trust & damages friendships.
Again, I try to follow the great quote from Sai Baba
Before you speak, ask yourself:
Is it kind,
Is it true,
Is it necessary,
Does it improve upon the silence?
Truth in Action
This really speaks for itself but as the old saying goes there is no point talking the talk if you don't walk the walk! Find what is the truth for you & live it. Don't compromise, be yourself in all you do & own it. Simple really...
Truth in Your Body, Truth in your Practice
This means choosing a practice that suits you. In this moment. Honouring what your body, mind & soul needs right now without concern about what it needed yesterday.
For years of practicing ashtanga yoga I really struggled practicing this practice through certain points in my lunar cycle, when I just wanted to rest & do deeper meditative practices & restorative poses. I forced my body in to a stronger daily practice than it wanted or needed because I wanted to master the poses. Until I acknowledged the truth in myself that this practice wasn’t always right for me. Once I could see & admit that to myself, I freed myself from a whole internal dialogue about what I should be doing & how I wasn’t practicing “right”. I freed myself to find my own way & it was so liberating. Now my home asana practice often looks a lot like rolling around on the floor.
As a student and as a teacher I look for practices that are honest & authentic; that honour the student as they are in this moment. Without judgment, without shame. It’s so liberating to be able to move on my mat with no regard for a regimented practice as a check-list of poses. As trainee teachers we are usually taught to deliver classes that followed a proscribed order of warm-up, standing poses, seated poses, twists, backbends & inversions, relaxation. BOOM. I guess it keeps people safer when teachers are starting out but there is often little thought or consideration given for how these practices affect the body.
I now empower my students to move in a way that feels good for their bodies, that allows them to flow from one movement to another easily & with integrity. I invite students to find their own versions of the poses as are right & truthful for them. To disregard whether a pose looks “right” but whether it feels good.
I have found senior teachers who teach in this way & continue to learn from them. I am truthful & sincere in the path of my own experience & soul rather than following a particular lineage for the sake of the lineage. The great news is that there are more & more teachers out there like me who are polyvalent; teaching from their own embodied experiences and blending these with learning from various senior teachers of different backgrounds. Honouring those lineages but with an open & questioning regard rather than a dogmatic acceptance.
So, when you get on your mat can you practice more from your internal world & needs rather than your idea of what a yoga practice should be? Can you break the mould & practice in a way than honours your body today?
Please leave me some comments below!
Next week we will be looking at Asteya: Non-Stealing.