Every moral code includes truthfulness. Truth in yoga is the second yama, satya in Sanskrit.
Why is truth so important, and what exactly does it mean to be truthful? When we talk about truth in yoga, we don’t simply mean giving straight facts, though.
Healthy relationships are based on trust that the other person is authentic. We cannot be authentic unless we are honest about what we want. Being authentic also means being honest about what we can and can’t do. In this way, truth in yoga is a bit different—a bit more—than just stating facts.
What happens when we’re not truthful about what we want or need or when others are not truthful with us?
Why being truthful is sometimes scary
Suppose someone asks you for something you don’t feel able to provide. You may be afraid to say no because you don’t want to offend, hurt, or anger the person. Taking care not to offend or hurt another person is valid, but relationships are two-way streets.
Pretending to be able or willing to do something when it’s not the truth hurts you. And you matter. If someone is unable to accept your limitations, would it be better to work on developing more authentic relationships?
Another reason we’re often afraid to be authentic is we are insecure and worry what others may think of us.
What is the truth in yoga?
Years ago, I went to a lecture at a local bookstore. The lecture was titled “Radical Honesty.” The presenter, who wrote a book on the topic, believed we need to tell the truth 100 percent of the time. For example, this man suggested, if you someone is wearing an outfit you think is ugly, you should say so!
Really? What purpose would that serve? Always speaking your mind is different from being truthful, unless being mean and hurtful is part of your truth.
But what if someone asks you a direct question, and you know your answer is not what the person wants to hear? In that case, it helps to be tactful. (“You look fine” is a legitimate response.)
When we risk speaking our truth, the consequences we fear often don’t happen. We need to be honest with ourselves as well as with others. Taking the time to contemplate and maybe even to journal about a situation before responding can be helpful. If we’re leaning toward a response to a request or question, we need to be sure we’re not hiding a deeper truth.
Do you agree to do more than your share of a project because you fear confrontation if you stand up for yourself? Are you spending social time with people you don’t really like, maybe people who don’t allow you to be yourself? Ask yourself why you’re doing this. Perhaps the idea of not liking someone makes you so uncomfortable you can’t admit it’s true.
Satya and Ahimsa
Truth in yoga is closely related to kindness and nonviolence. In fact, as we’ll learn, all five yamas (the ethical principles of yoga) are interconnected.
When you’re thinking about where to draw the line with truthfulness, remember to be kind! If being “honest” will do nothing other than hurt someone, it serves no purpose. If it makes a relationship more genuine, it may be worth the risk.
An important aspect of satya is alignment between what we believe to be true, what we say, and what we do. How many times have you heard he means well? Is it enough to simply have an intention (thought), or must we also act on that intention?
In The Path of the Yoga Sutras, Nicolai Bachman explains satya as alignment between thought, word, and deed. If we think—or believe—something is true but do not communicate or practice our belief, we are not practicing satya.
Similarly, if our words and actions are not based on an internal “knowing,” we are not being truthful. If we say one thing but do another, do something though we said we would not (or said we would do something else), we are not practicing satya. If we don’t check facts before we spread gossip or pretend to know something, we are not being truthful.
And if we are not truthful, we cannot be our authentic selves.
Do you ever struggle with truthfulness? What about authenticity? Share your thoughts!