When people say, ” What is Yoga?” the answer, at least typically here in the U.S. is that yoga is where I go exercise, where I go to relax, where I work on my handstand, or any other number of –usually physical descriptions of a class that one goes to.
OF course, yoga definitely does include the poses we perform on the mat, but it also offers you and me an opportunity to grow in other ways as well. In a book called the Yoga Sutras (this is an affiliate link), a fellow named Pantanjali wrote on a great deal of philosophical things, but in that text, he outlines some pretty deep guidelines for folks. Granted, his ultimate expression or fulfillment of life was Bliss, but for those of us in the west, it may be considered rules to live by to make you a better person. Now, these deeper “lessons” are often fodder for individuals with less knowledge of them as anti-religious, but I don’t happen to think they are misaligned with most of my personal religious beliefs, and I will tell you why.
What are the Limbs of Yoga?
These other “lessons” in yoga, or limbs are called the 8 limbs of yoga, and the first two (even before poses) are called the Yamas and the Niyamas. The yamas, essentially are societal suggestions on how we should behave. The Niyamas are self disciplines. Between these 8 limbs, the goal is for a yogi to be at peace both within and without.
We will discuss all of the Yamas and Niyamas in posts to come. We have already covered one Niyama, Aparigraha here, but today’s post will be about Truthfulness, or Satya which is a Yama. Satya is a guiding principle that tells us to act, say and be in integrity with each other and with ourselves. It basically says speak and be truthful.
Being full of Truth, not lying, is in western moral practices and Christianity as well (it is a Commandment in the Bible.)
What does it mean to practice Satya, or truthfulness
Practicing truthfulness has many facets. Of course, it means telling your partner when you ate the last chocolate chip cookie when you did. But it also means being honest with yourself about how a certain pose makes you feel or even being honest with how much you eat and drink or do. (I may be the only one that lies to myself about how much hot chocolate I drink at a given time when it is cold. Please don’t judge me, I HATE being cold, and I LOVE chocolate.) Being truthful can be easy, but sometimes it can be very, very hard.
However, are we supposed to ALWAYS be truthful?
When is it ok to Lie?
I’m sure we all have stories like this, but I feel like with such a heavy topic, levity would be enjoyed.
Many years ago, my father would color my mother’s hair. You know the Clairol box that you can get at your area super market? Believe it or not, I used to know my mom’s number because I would grab it for her, but I digress. At some point, I guess my mom decided to be courageous and do something other than “her” number. I don’t know what it was SUPPOSED to look like on a person’s head, but what it ended up looking like was basically like the orange of a Oak tree at the end of September.
Beautiful, if you’re an oak tree. Not the best color for my beautiful mama.
While my mom was finishing the drying process, or fixing her hair, or just plain trying to pysche herself up), my dad busted out of the bathroom door and started frantically whisper-yelling, “tell her it looks good!!” or “tell your mother you like her hair!” He was more than a little panic stricken.
Come to think of it, I wonder if HE picked out that color. Hmmmm.
My mom came out, she’s usually sporting a darker brown like mine, with a crop of hair the color of autumn trees. My sisters and I (there are 4 of us total) sat in the kitchen, mouths open, eyes probably as big as our mouths both from the shock of my dad’s frantic whisper yelling and the color of my mother’s hair. When she asked if we liked it, we looked alternately between my mother’s vibrant fall-like hair and my father’s frantic nodding behind her and all nodded in agreement.
In this particular case, I am not sure if telling my mom it “looked ok” was the right time to not say a whole truth. For my father, he knew my mother would be super upset if she didn’t look ok, especially if he would get into big trouble, so I could see why he would want her to love her new color. In my mom’s case, I’m not so sure it was the best look for her. However I’m not biased in this story, so had I been my dad and known the consequences, I would’ve said he did the right thing. 😉
Often, in this morally grey area, philosophers discuss what we should do–to tell the whole truth or not.
Actually, an interesting answer may be found in the Mahabharata (this is an affiliate link), an Ancient Indian Epic that we actually talked about recently in the Thrive Vlog (and soon to be podcast). In this huge (it’s over 44 hours long to listen to) poem, the characters are guided by their religious beliefs and Krisna, a diety. Krisna actually tells one of the main characters to lie.
I remember when I was listening to the story, I was actually sorta shocked that this pious leader would not just suggest but basically tell the main leader to lie in order to get this huge battle to turn in their favor. Basically, the “good guys” were losing terribly in this HUGE battle. Krisna tells the leader to tell their main opponent that his son was dying because that would be the only way he would yield. The leader was aghast at the instruction, and Krisna’s reason to lie was that it was for a greater good.
If we take this story as our litmus test for whether my dad should have told us to tell my mom that her hair looked good, then perhaps it wasn’t going against Satya because the direct ramifications were far better than had she been told she looked like an oak leaf in the fall.
The Truth about Satya
I think that practicing Satya, not lying or being truthful is a beautiful reminder of how yoga can be practiced both on and off the mat. Without diving too deep in the exceptions of truthfulness I think it is a personal “best practice” to make truthfulness a behavior we strive for in every situation, even when it is tough.
What do you think? Do you think there should be exceptions to Satya as Krisna explained in the Mahabharata? Or, do you think you should always tell the truth, regardless who it would hurt? These are such great topics to discuss and debate, and I’d love to hear what you thought!