“Honesty is more than not lying. It is truth telling, truth speaking, truth living, and truth loving.” ―James E. Faust
We’ve all been told since we were children not to lie. Beyond the pain it can cause others, you can also do yourself harm in the process. Have you ever told a little white lie, but then had to remember to whom you told what? It can become quite stressful, disrupting your peace of mind. Before you know it, you’re in a state that’s quite the opposite of what you’re trying to achieve with your yoga practice.
Patanjali lists satya, or truthfulness, as the second yama. If you’re just joining us, the yamas are five restraints in the Yoga Sutras meant to serve as guidelines to help us live happier and healthier lives. It’s said that if you can learn to perfect the first yama—ahimsa (nonviolence)—then the others will follow suit. You can start to see why with satya: Lying can be harmful, so therefore dishonesty violates ahimsa.
An interesting discussion surrounds how lying and nonharming affect each other. For instance, let’s say your friend just bought a new dress that she is absolutely in love with. When she puts it on, her face radiates with happiness. But maybe you think the dress isn’t flattering, you don’t like the color, or you don’t think it’s right for your friend. If you tell her what’s on your mind, you’re not lying, so you think, “OK, I’m following satya.”
But what about ahimsa? By telling your friend that you think the dress doesn’t work on her, when she is clearly so happy, your words may be hurtful. You should also always remember and acknowledge your intention. What is the drive behind your words? Are you saying something out of love? Are you sharing your thoughts to hear yourself talk or because you believe your opinion is more valid than someone else’s?
This is a basic example, and you can see how easily this debate could encompass more complex issues. So what should we do in these situations? Yoga Sutra 2.36 answers by saying, “If by being honest we will cause trouble, difficulty, or harm to anyone, we should keep quiet.” So ahimsa comes first.
Satya is more than just being honest in the words we speak; it’s also being truthful about our feelings, our thoughts, our actions, and ourselves. As yogis, we strive to live in the present moment and see things as they are. Both of these can be very difficult to do, but well worth the practice. When you lie, you’re altering or trying to escape reality; you’re creating a world as you wish it to be, rather than how it is.
Practical applications of satya also apply. You could be in a yoga class and every inch of your body is telling you that you’re at your max. But the person next to you is in a pretzel variation of a pose, so you decide you want to push through and try it. Here, you’re not being honest with yourself, and you’re likely doing your body harm.
“Where there are no lies, the entire life becomes an open book.” —Yoga Sutra 2.36
If we clear away dishonesty, it’s like cleaning the lenses of your glasses. You can see yourself and the world around you clearer. You can better know yourself, which is such a big part of why you practice yoga. There is freedom in truth.