Aslan the Lion. The second Yama; Satya

 Image credit - Corentin Marzin

Image credit - Corentin Marzin

The second of the five Yamas is Satya which means truthfulness in speech and in thought, which may appear quite easy. Don’t fib, right? Easy.

So, you’re going out with a friend on Saturday night who’s been worrying about her weight and she asks your opinion about an outfit that is clearly a couple of sizes too small for her; do you tell her "yes, that looks fantastic!” or do you tell her that it’s not the most flattering outfit you’ve seen her wear? You know the truth will upset her. A colleague confides in you that he’s overheard people talking about him having a body odour problem; “oh, that’s ridiculous; it’s clearly someone being spiteful!” or casually mention that yes, you have noticed that occasionally there's a slight smell; would he like you to show him where the office shower facilities are?".

It’s all very teenage magazine agony aunt, but you get the picture.

Do we sugar-coat or be as brutal as a sledgehammer with with someone’s emotions? Using these crude examples, we can see that the Yamas Ahimsa and Satya really do go hand in hand. Of course, we can’t go around being insensitive to everyone but also we can’t lie by omitting the truth.

Being truthful all the time is hard when you are trying to spare someone’s ego and the alternative is that sometimes we end up being dishonest just because we’re trying to be nice. Should we strive to be nice or is being real the far better option? In her excellent book “The Yamas and Niyamas; Exploring Yoga’s Ethical Practice”, Deborah Adele likens the truth to the lion king, Aslan in the Lion the Witch and Wardrobe, explaining that “...truthfulness, isn’t safe, but it is good. Truth has the power to right wrongs and end sorrows. It is fierce in its demands and magnanimous in its offerings” This book contains an excellent chapter on Satya, and really has challenged my way of thinking in it’s regard. I’d highly recommend popping to the library or to the local book store to have a read, you’ll not be disappointed. I have to confess that my own copy has already become quite dog-eared with highlighted sections that are my favourites and many different scraps of paper posing as bookmarks. I love this book; it has helped me make sense of so many things.

Anyhoo. How can we apply Satya to our yoga practice? Some days we rock up to our mat feeling not quite tip-top; we may have had a busy week at work, we may be fighting off a cold, we may be distracted by something that’s happening in our lives right now. Nevertheless the practice, normally so easy, feels tough today. Ego could very well start piping up; 'come on, you stretched further than this last week!' This is a perfect example of when Satya could be applied on the mat.

Sthira Sukhamasanam (The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali 2:46) instructs that asana should be of steadiness and ease. It’s far more important to notice how the poses feel in the body rather than how they look, or by progress compared to last week. It is important to be truthful with ourselves. Being honest about how comfortable the body is is key to having a successful practice.

So what do you think? Do you want to be nice or do you want to be real?