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4 Ways to Practice Satya
We’re in a time when misinformation is rampant. Issues without simple answers fill the news, and the nature of truth itself is a conversation in the public discourse. As Patanjali formulated the Yamas (five spiritual tenets within the eight-limbed path), issues like misinformation on social media and postmodern ideas around the nature of truth didn’t exist. Yet the second Yama of Satya, or truthfulness, feels more relevant in 2021 than ever.
Coming back to values of honesty, authenticity, and humility can bring peace of mind and greater harmony to our lives in a time that can feel far from peaceful and harmonious. And like a stone dropping into a pond, we never know what kind of ripple effects may come from living by Satya, on those with whom we interact and beyond. Here are four guiding principles for practicing Satya in this complex and often tumultuous day and age.
How to Practice Truthfulness
1. First, Do No Harm
Each Yama rests on the foundation of the Yama or Yamas before it. In other words, we must practice each Yama by the principles of the Yama or Yamas preceding it. Satya is the second Yama, following ahimsa (non-violence or non-harming). We should therefore come to the idea of Satya with the principle of “first, do no harm.”
For example, if the truth is hurtful, it might be more constructive to remain silent. We can remain conscious of the impact of our words, even if they are truthful, using trigger warnings where appropriate, for example. When the truth has the power to harm, we can bring extra thoughtfulness to what we do with that truth.
With social media use, we can be mindful of how we comment, post, and share. We can be vocal about things that matter to us but do so mindfully. We should be cautious of potentially sharing misinformation, for example. It’s best practice to refrain from sharing articles until we have time and space to read them, even if it concerns an issue we’re passionate about and we believe that we understand well. For instance. If we’re in a conversation on social media, and we realize that it’s not benefiting anyone and only creating anger, perhaps it’s best to step away, even if we’re confident in our point of view and believe that we’re speaking important truth.
2. Engage With Humility
Humility is a form of honesty. Without undervaluing our knowledge, experiences, and what we have to offer overall, acting with humility is acknowledging what we don’t know, what we haven’t experienced, and our own growth areas. In conversations on matters of social justice, humility can lead to listening, learning, and being able to accept that because of a certain level of privilege we may hold (for those of us to whom that principle applies), there are things we may never understand. Yet we can always listen.
With the complexity of the issues in the ether these days, there might very well often be things that we don’t know. Though it can feel challenging to do so in the moment, in the long run, it’s more constructive to say, “I don’t know, but I’ll do what I can to learn.” Understanding that we have things to learn can inspire us to do all that we can to do just that—to learn. As we engage in conversations on important issues, can we come with curiosity rather than a desire to be seen as “smart” or “well-informed”? The former can lead to true learning, while the latter can sometimes make us try to hide that which we don’t know, which is certainly not the spirit of Satya.
3. Live Authentically
Truthfulness goes beyond telling lies or speaking the truth; are we honest with ourselves and others through living as who we really are? As conversations around identity swirl in the ether, there can be many complex feelings and ideas about how we live and express it. Arguably, we’re at a place in society where unhindered personal authenticity is more possible and more encouraged than ever before. Yet there can be backlash. We are sadly not yet at a place in society where everyone can live as who they are, wherever they are, and remain safe and supported, so there might be limits on this concept.
Yet overall, we owe it to ourselves and others to seek the truth of who we are and work toward showing up in the world as that person. Who do we want to spend time with? How do we want to contribute to our communities, nation, and the world? How do we want to express ourselves? What are our deeply held values? The images and narratives on social media, advertising, pop culture, and the like can tempt us to live in ways that aren’t authentic to who we are. We don’t have to give in. Through the tools of yoga practice and other personal growth measures, we can keep coming back to the truth of ourselves.
4. Satya on the Yoga Mat
In asana practice, being honest with what truly nurtures and doesn’t nurture our bodies is crucial. First, it can help us to avoid injury. Beyond that, it can bring immense personal growth through cultivating our ability to let go of preconceived notions of what our poses should or shouldn’t look like or arbitrary timelines for our progress. In the long run, detachment feels a lot better! When we value the truth of what our bodies can do, each time we show up on our mats—and maintain gratitude for that—our practice can flourish in its own time. Even room for growth is something to value; that means the journey continues, and we get to keep exploring and learning. That’s a gift!
How to Practice Satya with Mantras
We can’t always practice on the yoga mat every day, because of constraints on our time, energy, or even simply interest. Mantras, or simple repeated phrases, can be a quick and effective daily practice for cultivating Satya.
These mantras could be “I speak truthfully,” “I live authentically,” “I act with humility,” “I walk through the world with honesty.” You can also make up ones of your own, those that might resonate with you more.
When practicing these mantras, try to reduce unnecessary stimuli (such as loud noises) as much as possible. You can do these seated, standing, or lying down. Just be sure to keep your spine long, tall and spacious and your breath full.
When beginning, closing your eyes can help you keep an internal focus. If closing your eyes doesn’t feel good for you (it doesn’t for everyone), just keep looking forward with a soft gaze. Take three deep breaths before using your Satya mantra or mantras, filling up with breath from your belly button to your collarbone as you breathe in and emptying out fully as you breathe out.
Repeat your mantra(s) verbally, softly under your breath, or simply in your mind, for as long as you have time and can hold the concentration. Try for at least 30 seconds. When your mind wanders, as it most likely will, just keep coming back to your mantra(s). Try not to judge yourself for the mind wandering. It’s natural and all part of the process.
As you finish, open your eyes, or simply fix your gaze if you kept your eyes open. Move forward with your day knowing that you have the strength to remain truthful and that truthfulness will give you greater strength.
Journaling: Satya Practice Off the Yoga Mat
Journaling, as well as open and honest conversations with coaches, mentors, therapists, or loved ones, can also help us to cultivate our practice of truthfulness. These mindful approaches can flower into us acting with more honesty, authenticity, and humility each day. We are what we eat, they say. That holds true far beyond the food that nourishes us. What we feed grows. Feeding truthfulness within ourselves and how we act in the world can find us living with more calm, joy, and harmony, even in times that can feel chaotic and stressful. That’s something worth working toward each day.
Kathryn Boland is an RCYT and R-DMT (Registered Dance/Movement Therapist). She is originally from Rhode Island, attended The George Washington University (Washington, DC) for an undergraduate degree in Dance (where she first encountered yoga), and Lesley University for an MA in Clinical Mental Health Counseling, Expressive Therapies: Dance/Movement Therapy. She has taught yoga to diverse populations in varied locations. As a dancer, she has always loved to keep moving and flowing in practicing more active Vinyasa-style forms. Her interests have recently evolved to include Yin and therapeutic yoga, and aligning those forms with Laban Movement Analysis to serve the needs of various groups (such as Alzheimer’s Disease patients, children diagnosed with ADHD, PTSD-afflicted veterans - all of which are demographically expanding). She believes in finding the opportunity within every adversity, and doing all that she can to help others live with a bit more breath and flow!