“It means poise of the soul which enables one to look at life in all its aspects evenly.” ~Mahadev Desai, Gita According to Gandhi
Satya is one of the eight limbs of yoga. Vegan yoga enthusiasts often focus on Ahimsa (or non-violence), another one of the eight limbs, which makes sense—we’re so driven to avoid harming our fellow sentient beings, and it’s at the core of our values!
I wanted to explore Satya (truth), however, because 1) I’ve thought about it so little in the context of yogic philosophy, and 2) it’s accompanied by the belief that being true will yield freedom to the individual. We’ve all heard that the truth shall set you free. Is this really, well, true?
In Light on Yoga, B. K. S. Iyengar explains that practicing Satya, or being truthful, relates to our speech, thoughts, intentions (or prayers), and actions. When we are truthful in all of these elements, he writes, the universe will provide us everything we need—we shall experience abundance without strife.
If that sounds a bit idealistic to you, don’t worry, I felt the same way when I read it. Don’t get me wrong, the idea makes sense, and there have been many moments when I’ve thought, Yes, I wish the world worked so logically! While the world isn’t completely devoid of logic or pleasing, linear structure, there’s sure a lot of chaos, too. Doing good doesn’t mean absence from bad, unfortunately. As much as we strive to live in truth, or authentically (to use a current buzzword in wellness), there’s no guarantee that we’ll be rewarded in equal measure. Likewise, our control over our words, actions, and thoughts doesn’t grant us similarly controlled world.
I don’t mean to be too pessimistic or launch into a post-structuralist lament, however. Rather, I want to explore an interpretation of Satya that makes sense to me (and hopefully you, too!) that we actually feel we can take off the mat and into the world. Indeed, I do believe that the philosophy of Satya can have great value for us modern folk.
The Truth and You
In many ways, I imagine practicing Satya means tuning into your intuition and really hearing yourself. The perfect example to illustrate this actually involves what happens when we don’t do this: Have you ever entered into something fairly major (like a new relationship or job), and saying “yes” made you feel a little queasy but he seems like a great guy or the new job would mean more (needed) money? I certainly have. Over a year ago, I picked up a side job that only required me to work seven hours a week. The pay was decent and a very helpful bump to my monthly budget. But it never felt right. Every time I drove to work, my body was saying no no no…even though the work environment was rather pleasant!
Even though it’s hard to follow our inner guidance in some situations, the more we honor it, the better off we’ll be. I imagine that this is generally true because when we allow ourselves to be guided into situations that better suit us (even if that’s for mysterious reasons!), we’re most likely to engage with those situations with a natural, organic energy; we’ll be less likely to feel that we’re performing unnatural roles, which is incredibly draining on the psyche.
I’m certainly not perfect in this department, but I feel that listening to my intuition most of the time has led to an accumulation of actions that’s given me a fairly balanced life. In cases where I’ve revised my plans to suit my intuition, I was immediately flooded with relief, and I felt more able to provide abundant energy to the areas of my life I really value. Returning to my example, I realized I made the wrong choice by forcing myself to pick up another job that didn’t energize me. When I wished those employers a warm goodbye, I knew (without having to think about it) that I’d made the right choice for all involved.
The Truth and Others
The concept of Satya extends to our relations with others, of course. One philosophy of Satya holds that when we speak or act from a place of truth, those around us feel as though they have been actually seen and understood. In other words, practicing Satya helps others feel valued as human beings.
I think most of us can relate to this understanding of Satya. Haven’t we all, at some point, been in the presence of another who treated her words with care and didn’t seem to feel the need to posture or act like anyone other than herself? Immediately, we feel more at ease around those kind of people, and in my experience, these individuals have served as my teachers, illustrating that it is possible (and joyful!) to be authentic.
Practicing Satya can become tricky in more intimate relationships, however. For many of us, this comes down to a complex web of “ownership”—those close to us may unwittingly imply that they have certain expectations about the way we express ourselves that may not actually align with the self we want to express. I don’t think it’s uncommon for someone to feel that a version or idea of you “belongs” to them. Some may expect us to never change from the “person they used to know.” (We even do this to ourselves!) We may feel pressured to play a role that makes us feel further away from ourselves than ever before.
Here is where I believe it’s important to actually let go of a particular concept often yoked to ideas of “the truth.” And that’s essentialism—or the idea that you have one, unchanging true self. While there may indeed be parts of you that simply don’t change, embrace the fact that you are a multitude. Diarist Anïs Nin expresses an anxiety about multiplicity of selves that most of us feel at some point or another:
“I have always been tormented by the image of multiplicity of selves. Some days I call it richness, and other days I see it as a disease, a proliferation as dangerous as cancer. My first concept about people around me was that all of them were coordinated into a WHOLE, whereas I was made up of multiple selves, of fragments.”
The good news is that our multiplicity is our wholeness. When we cherish and listen to this, we will not only feel more in touch with the person we want to express but also experience healthier relationships with others—we practice Satya.
Make a list of things that you feel most connected to in this moment. These can be ideas, objects, people, places, or activities. Meditate on why these things energize you and set an intention to invite more of these truth-inspiring things into your life.
What does Satya mean to you? How do you practice Satya in your daily life?
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