You’re a yogi, so you never lie. Right? Of course, most people fail to be truthful 100 percent of the time, but if you follow yoga’s eight-limbed path, you’re probably familiar with the principle of satya, or truthfulness.
What does it mean to practice satya? Most moral codes include some version of honesty among their principles. If we want to have healthy relationships, we of course need to be trustworthy, and that usually means being truthful.
The truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth
A good way to define truthfulness in yogic terms is to think of it as being authentic. To practice satya—to be truthful—means to be our authentic selves. Satya is not just about giving honest answers when we’re asked a question, but also about being true to who we are and what we believe. If we want something, we need to say so. If don’t want to do something, especially something that violates our integrity, we need to say no.
This is not always easy. Sometimes it’s downright scary.
Why do we sometimes fear being truthful? Yoga teacher Sarah Guglielmi suggests—and I agree—that we often fear the consequences of being honest. For example, if someone asks you for something you’re not sure you can provide, you may be afraid to say no because you don’t want to offend, hurt, or anger the person who has made the request. In such a case, it helps to recognize that true relationships are two-way streets. If someone is unable to accept your limitations, it may be better to cultivate more truthful relationships.
The good news is, the more we take the risk of speaking our truth, the more we realize the consequences we fear mostly do not happen. But we need to be honest with ourselves as well as with others. Taking the time to contemplate a situation before responding can be helpful.
Is it truth if it’s hurtful?
Being truthful, though, does not mean you always need to say what’s on your mind. For example, it’s not necessary to be mean and hurtful. So what if someone asks you a question, and you know your answer is not what the person wants to hear? Before you answer, it’s worth considering the value of giving that “honest” answer. I’m not suggesting that you lie; just that brutal honesty is not always in line with yogic principles. Consider the principle of ahimsa before you say or do something that hurts another being.
If you’re having difficulty deciding how to respond with truth to a request or question, consider that you may actually be hiding a deeper truth. For example, are you agreeing to do more than your share of a project at work because you fear confrontation if you stand up for yourself? Are you spending social time with people you don’t really like—maybe people who don’t allow you to be yourself? Ask yourself why you’re doing this. Perhaps the idea of not liking someone makes you so uncomfortable that you can’t admit it’s the truth.
In The Path of the Yoga Sutras, Nicolai Bachman explains satya as alignment between thought, word, and deed. What we believe to be true, what we say, and what we actually do must align. It’s not enough to “mean well” if your actions don’t follow suit. If we say one thing but do another, do something we said we wouldn’t do, or even pretend to be someone we’re not, then we are not practicing satya.