Satya, or truthfulness, is the second yama in Patanjali’s Ashtanga yoga path. The yamas are ethical restraints and are the first step of the eight-limbed path to enlightenment laid out in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali.
In essence, these are the things not to do on the spiritual path. There are five of these “don’ts” that include:
All of the eight limbs of the Ashtanga path are important and all of the yamas are also important. However, the path is a hierarchy and a yogi cannot progress to the next step before mastering the preceding step. So it could be argued that the first limb—the yamas—is the most important step on the path toward enlightenment.
The yama satya, or the practice of truthfulness, is extremely important to all spiritual practices, but to yogic philosophy, this basic tenet is unwavering and imperative.
Satya is a restraint from falsehood or a commitment to the truth. This can be applied to so many different aspects of our lives.
When we first think of falsity, our minds envision pathological liars who cannot tell the truth. But not every falsity is so apparent.
Of course, practicing truthfulness includes refraining from straight out lying, but it also can be much more subtle. Being truthful means being transparent, clear, open, and genuinely honest—to others and also to yourself.
So to practice satya, we must find a way to be raw, real, vulnerable, and honest with everyone in our lives—perhaps most importantly, ourselves.
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To practice satya, we must live with clarity and openness so that we may always realize what is true. Of course, we must refrain from lying or even withholding the truth, but we also must strive to understand some greater overall truth as well.
We must strive to remove all falsity from our lives and live with transparency and vulnerability.
This may mean taking blame when necessary instead of telling a lie to “save face” for why we showed up late for work. This might mean being completely honest on social media instead of only showing your “highlight reels” to the world.
To practice satya, we must live with clarity and openness so that we may always realize what is true.
But to truly practice satya, we have to also be unwaveringly truthful with ourselves. This may mean not lying to ourselves about the potential future of an unhealthy relationship or being honest and acknowledging when we need help.
Practicing satya also includes adhering to a greater truth—a universal, cosmic truth. If we live in a truly open and honest way with vulnerability and integrity, then we can understand and experience a greater truth around us.
There are a number of ways that we can practice satya, but some are particularly important.
It should go without saying that anyone on a spiritual journey should practice honesty and truthfulness. However, as yogis, we must remember that satya is the second yama. First, we must adhere to the principle of ahimsa and then we must practice satya.
So this means that although we must always be honest, we must also be honest in a non-violent way. Ahimsa is the practice of non-violence so we have to practice this when we also practice truthfulness.
This means that we can’t go tell our friends that we hate their new haircuts or say mean things about others. The golden rule that if you have nothing nice to say then it is better to say nothing at all applies here.
We must be truthful and honest when we speak and even when we think; however, we must learn to be honest in a loving and non-violent way.
For example, if we feel we need to be honest with ourselves about our unhealthy diet, we don’t want to tear ourselves down with self-flagellation about how stupid or unhealthy we are. Instead, we need to be honest about our bodies’ needs and clearly set the path toward better health.
We can do this in a loving, non-violent way with honesty and integrity and still reap all the benefits.
Those who are truly honest are refreshingly open, vulnerable, and real. They don’t hide behind any facade—they simply are who they are.
Being truly honest with others and yourself can sometimes feel frightening. Being raw and vulnerable isn’t easy or comfortable, but it can be magical.
Brené Brown so eloquently said, “Vulnerability is the core, the heart, the center of meaningful human experiences,” and her words couldn’t hold more truth.
Truthfulness is raw. It’s courageous. It’s genuine and deeply human. It is vulnerable, but it is also undeniable. Satya is truth, and truth is indisputable. It is what it is, just as we are—if we have the courage to live vulnerably.
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Satya is about more than just being honest and open. It is about following a greater truth and a deeper understanding of the world. It is about honoring the cosmic truth—whatever that may mean to you.
So to truly practice satya, we must uphold a greater truth, a greater understanding of the ways of the universe. We must surrender to this truth as it is and also seek to maintain its truthfulness.
Satya is a powerful practice if we have the courage to be truly and completely honest. It takes practice and dedication, but the truthfulness of the practice offers strength.
To always adhere to the principle of truthfulness is certainly challenging, but with effort and commitment, it is possible. If we all practiced a bit more satya, just think what a better, more open, and honest world we could live in.
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