Continuing with Ekhart Yoga’s programme on the yamas and niyamas, this week’s focus is satya – honesty or truthfulness. This has been defined as “one’s words and thoughts being in exact correspondence to fact” (by Vyasa, cited by Bryant). Truth must not, however, cause harm to others, as satya and all of the yamas are subservient to ahimsa, i.e. to non-violence.
The practice focused on honesty, exploring it by hugging the midline of the body, essentially creating strength from the core for each pose. There were a lot of standing poses (for example Warrior variations) that required not just strength in the legs, but strength down through the core of the body and mental strength when the leg muscles started to get tired. I will admit that I struggled a bit to get my head around how hugging the midline in a particular pose encourages honesty. Things started to become a bit clearer when I focused more on the strength aspect. Honesty often requires strength, so I would think that building strength on the mat can help us to approach life off the mat from a place of honesty and truth. I think it’s also much easier to be honest and truthful if we really know ourselves and have the confidence to accept who we are, rather than trying to mould ourselves to fit the place in the world that we think we should occupy, or that others want us to occupy. Yoga is one of the best methods I’ve found (and believe me, I’ve tried a lot!) to peel back the layers of thought, analysis and neurosis to get to who I really am underneath all those layers.
During the practice Sandra also talked a lot about freedom, and the fact that practising with honesty leads to freedom. Again, this was something that I wasn’t immediately able to grasp, but it started to make sense as the practice went on. If we practise honestly, in that we observe where we are on any given day, accept and acknowledge our progress and our limitations, and don’t take shortcuts with things like alignment and breath while telling ourselves that we’re doing everything we can in a pose, then we are free to obtain maximum benefit from individual poses and from the practice as a whole. Off the mat, if we live in a way that is true to who we are, and if our relationships with and attitudes towards others are based on truthfulness, then stress and anxiety levels reduce and we find the freedom to live the best life that we can. I’ve certainly found that when I’m being true to myself and what I need or want, or when I approach a situation from a position of total honesty (I might be a bad liar, but we all weave little fibs into lives every now and then), I’m a lot less worried and stressed as I know that whatever happens, I’ve based my actions on what I know to be true.
A focus on satya seems particularly relevant at the moment, given that we are living in a so-called “post truth” world where half truths or even blatant falsehoods can be classed as “alternative facts” and it is apparently entirely acceptable to accuse someone of lying if they disagree with you, even if their position is clearly supported by evidence. Power, pursuing a political agenda and maintaining the position and influence of oneself and one’s allies seem to have become far more important than concepts like truth and honesty. The truth can be bent to suit a particular purpose, and honesty is only required when previous lies are exposed (and even then only to the extent absolutely necessary to preserve reputation). These attitudes have bound themselves to the roots of our society to such an extent that it is sometimes difficult to see how we can pull back from them. That, I think, has to start on a personal basis, with each individual approaching their lives and their relationships with others and the world around them from a position of truth and honesty. That may sound pointless – surely one person is too small and insignificant to make a difference? – but it is the cumulative effort and effect that makes that difference. Gandhi said that “if we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change”. Michael Jackson (and the LEGO Batman Movie) encourage us to start with the man [or woman] in the mirror. We can’t change the world until we change ourselves.
One final point: Bryant ends his section on this second yama with the following comment:
“Also, avoiding untruth extends to the point of abstaining from reading fiction, for Hariharananda [one of the commentators cited by Bryant]. The yogi is always contemplating spiritual truths and does not occupy his or her mind with fictional or worldly trivia, silly fantasy, daydreaming, or imagination.”
No offence to someone who I’m sure was an expert, enlightened yogi, but that sounds incredibly dull. I see no reason why “avoiding untruth” should mean not reading books or daydreaming or using one’s imagination, and that’s not just because I love reading, daydreaming and imagining things. All those things stimulate and broaden the mind (although I suppose that does to an extent depend on what’s being read or daydreamed about), and if we are going to be true to ourselves and to offer the best of ourselves to others and to the world, then surely we shouldn’t stop doing that. “Contemplating spiritual truths” may be all very well but personally I think enlightenment, if there is such a thing, goes far beyond that. I, for one, won’t be giving up my books (including lots that would probably fall in the “silly fantasy” category) any time soon.