A while ago I wrote my first yoga philosophy post about Ahimsa, or non-harming, which is the first yama in the ‘Eight Limbs of Yoga.’ When I trained to be a yoga teacher, learning about yoga philosophy was one of my favourite elements of the course and the part I was looking forward to; although our discussions quite often led us round in frustrating circles, I was amazed at how the ancient philosophy is still so relevant today and the extent to which it made me think. I know yoga philosophy might conjure images of wafting incense and emaciated yogis in lotus pose, but I promise that when it’s broken down it really can be relevant to us Westerners (including those that don’t actually ‘do’ yoga.) You can think of the teachings a little like the 10 Commandments of yoga – in their simplest form, they’re there to help you lead a better life. Although the main aim is to reach enlightenment, I’m pretty sure this isn’t on many people’s mind (reaching the next payday is more likely) so it’s best to think of them as a useful moral code.
As I mentioned in my first philosophy post, the first ‘limb’ is the yamas which provide the moral and ethical guidelines. They teach us how to treat ourselves, others and our environment. Along with the second limb, the niyamas, they are a meant to guide you through your daily interactions and the choices you make in life.
Ahimsa – ‘Non violence’
Satya – ‘Truthfulness’
Asteya – ‘Non-stealing’
Brahmacharya – ‘Celibabacy’ or ‘Right use of energy’
Aparigraha – ‘Non Greed’
SO WHAT DOES SATYA MEAN TO THE WESTERN YOGI?
Satya means being truthful – being open, honest and never engaging in pretence. I think it’s true to say that most of us, including myself, hide behind some kind of mask, presenting different personas in different environments: we have our professional persona which might be different to how we are with our friends, family or on social media. Of course, we are all multi-faceted and its natural that different situations should bring out different sides of our character. Satya is about being willing to be honest, vulnerable and transparent – this doesn’t mean that you need to lay all your cards on the table (white lies are essential every now and then) but it means that you need to be open and honest about how you feel and the struggles that you’re facing. Recently Jess wrote about what it means to be healthy and the pressure that social media puts on people to appear perfect. Admitting your struggles and successes makes you more human, and if we all did this a little more then the world might be a more relatable place. For me, being truthful is also about being open with your feelings. If you’re like me, you’ll let little frustrations simmer under the surface for a while before eventually erupting, often unexpectedly. So if it annoys you that you boyfriend leaves dirty mugs in the sink, just let him know. It works the other way too – remember to pay people compliments and to thank them if they’ve helped you – so often I think in my head something like ‘Oooh so and so’s skin is glowing’ but forget to actually say it out loud!
SATYA ON THE MAT
I suppose being truthful on the mat means different things to different people. For me, it’s about being honest about what my body can do, its boundaries and respecting its limits. I learnt the hard way by pushing myself in a posture that I thought I had built up to but hadn’t – as I’ve mentioned in previous posts I badly tore my adductor muscle in my right leg and it has taken months and months to heal. It’s common to want to progress to the next level but you need to be honest with yourself: if you don’t have the back flexibility to push up into wheel or the core strength to do a headstand, then don’t force it. Just keep practising little and often and you will get there in the end! I remember being so frustrated when a yoga teacher told me that eventually the legs just float up in headstand (there was more crashing than floating in the early stages) but now I know what she means.
THE DEEP STUFF
On a deeper level, satya is about discovering what is really True about the nature of existence. About discovering that there is only one Consciousness, and we are all inseparable, interconnected parts of it. This is an easy thing to say but more difficult to actually feel or truly believe – but that is the mission of a true yogi and some people spend their lives in search of this Truth.
Any type of philosophy can be a little overwhelming, so I think it’s about taking away little snippets that resonate with you, and (if you want to) thinking about how you can apply them to your life. For me, it’s about being honest with myself on the mat and being honest about my feelings. I have a tendency to lock things away but I always feel so much better when I share them and am truthful about how I’m really feeling. A problem shared is a problem halved and all that.
WHAT DOES SATYA MEAN TO YOU? I’D LOVE TO HEAR YOU THOUGHTS ON YOGA PHILOSOPHY, SO GET IN TOUCH!