Diving into the Yamas: Satya

Over the summer I continued looking at the eight limbs of yoga by looking at ahimsa, the first of the Yamas. The Yamas offer guidance for how an individual can interact with the external world. The second of the Yamas is satya, often translated to truthfulness. While it is speaking truthfully, satya goes beyond that. It’s about truth being in alignment with one’s words, thoughts and actions.

In another word, living with integrity.

Truthfulness may begin with what someone says, but it continues with the follow-through. If I commit myself to something – say baking cookies for a holiday party – practicing satya and my integrity requires me to bake cookies for said holiday party. My truth is committing to my promise.

Beyond that, satya also follows ahimsa – non-harming – in the yamas. That means that as I practice satya, I do also still need to practice my ahimsa. Continuing with the upcoming holiday theme, if a friend is wearing a Christmas sweater that I don’t like, would speaking that truth harm his or her feelings? After all, another person may love it and it’s just my opinion. If asked, I can maybe say that it’s not necessarily a design I would pick for myself, but I’m happy my friend gets joy wearing it. Because I am happy if there is something that brings my friends joy. So I’m looking at how I might reframe to practice both satya and ahimsa.

With ahimsa, I’m practicing my thoughts and actions to not harm another. I add to that satya to continue my outward actions with honesty. In Nicolai Bachman’s book The Path of the Yoga Sutras, he also examines satya with setting an intention. Practicing truthfulness is setting an intention, and then actively following through with thoughts and actions that may assist with bringing that intention to fruition. “If you follow through with your intention,” he writes, “then you are practicing satya and the results are likely to be what you expect.”

In conversation, it can also apply to gossip, and Bachman also notes the need to understand the other person’s side. Engaging in gossip is not practicing satya. So while the yamas are often referred to as restraints, and practicing truthfulness may initially be seen as an action, this aspect of it is practicing self-restraint. Is what I’m saying true? It is thinking through what one might say – or do – before actually saying or doing the thing.

This is the part of a series of posts for The Mat yoga studio, sharing my thoughts and observations as a student only. The views and opinions are my own. 


Patricia returned to Texas after spending several years on both coasts. She's a writer, amateur photographer and traveler.

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