The Ethical Code of Yoga - Truthfulness
By Laura Hansen.
Prior to the practice of Asana, are the practices of the Yamas and Niyamas which serve as an ethical code and foundation for the practice of yoga (Patanjali, 1999). These are moral ideals to strive for and the idea is improve the practice of these disciplines. The second “Yama” is Satya or Truthfulness.
Satya is much more comprehensive than simply not lying. While not lying to others is important, it requires knowing what is true and knowing ourselves. Truly knowing oneself is a very difficult practice which is complicated by the mind. For example, how many times have we told ourselves that we are doing a posture correctly only to be corrected by the instructor? Until we know the truth we cannot tell the truth to ourselves or others. Gandhi said he worshipped God as Truth (Gandhi, 1968, Introduction):
“But I worship God as Truth only.
I have not found Him,
But I am seeking after Him.”
The practice of Satya can lead not only to a greatly improved yoga practice but also to a more enlightened perspective.
One of the challenges, in practicing Satya, is that we don’t know what we don’t know. In other words, we don’t always understand the truth about ourselves or the world around us, which makes it difficult for us to tell the truth. Therefore, the first Satya practice is to question our understanding and to be open minded about the truth. Some practitioners advise that they only way to speak truth is to say nothing.
We can start the Satya practice while doing our postures:
- Truly listen to what the body is telling you. Notice and observe your body and work towards deepening your experience of your practice.
- Back off from the full expression of the posture and try to feel truly comfortable in the posture.
- Pay attention to the thoughts that pop into your head as you practice. Notice your thoughts but don’t attach truth to them, simply let them drift away like impersonal clouds.
- When you feel that you need a rest, take a rest.
We can further the practice of Satya by including a daily meditation practice in our lives. Meditation is a very difficult practice to start, but once undertaken provides huge benefits in the lives of practitioners. Yes, meditation can be boring and difficult, most worthwhile activities can be difficult.
For those with a meditation practice, I use the following prompt to assist in the search for truthfulness: Close your eyes and imagine a fax machine. Every thought you have comes out of the fax machine on a piece of paper. Instead of attaching truth or individuality to the thought, see the thought as the product of an inanimate machine. Look at the thought objectively and then file it away. Keep attention on the fax machine, at new thoughts being generated and file them away immediately. This practice helps me to see my thoughts objectively and not get attached to them as truth or self. Sometimes I try out different filing systems such as negative, neutral or positive which helps me to see how my thoughts are shaping my perception of reality. I also use past, present or future to see how my thoughts ramble throughout space-time.
By paying attention to the mind, we may slowly begin to see the filters which we impose upon reality and even begin removing those filters. This is a lifelong process which benefits yoga practice and personal development.
Gandhi, M.K. (1968). An Autobiography or the Story of my Experiments with Truth, Ahmedabad, India: Navajivan Publishing House.
Patanjali, Edited by Satchidananda, S. (1999). The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, Buckingham, VA: Integral Yoga.
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