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The Yamas of the Yoga Sutras, Part II: Satya & Asteya: Yoga Off the Mat

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Ahimsa, Satya, and Asteya can all be practiced on the yoga mat. Be truthful about your limits to prevent harm to your body. Be realistic about and embrace your limits. There is no virtue in coveting another person's fancy looking asana.

Today we’ll continue our investigation of the yamas (social disciplines) by expanding upon the 2nd yama, satya (truthfulness), and the 3rd, asteya (non-stealing).  If you missed Tuesday’s blog about ahimsa, please click here.

Satya: Truthfulness

Yoga Sutra II.36

satya pratisthayam kriya phala ashrayatvam

I’d like to provide 2 translations:

Mr. B.K.S. Iyengar:

“When the sadhaka (practitioner) is firmly established in the practice of truth his words become so potent that whatever he/she says comes to realization.”

And Mr. T.K.V. Desikachar:

“One who shows a high degree of right communication will not fail in his/her actions.”

As we’ve probably all learned the hard way, one lie requires multiple lies to support it.  Even the smallest white lie can result in conflict.  By refining our communication and only speaking truths that do not conflict with the observation of ahimsa (non-violence), we eliminate dualities in our lives.

Observing satya demands being honest with ourselves.  Mr. B.K.S. Iyengar so adequately states in Light on the Yoga Sutras, “Most of us think we tell the truth, but the truth is casual, not integrated and cellular.  For instance, if we say, ‘I will never eat chocolate again’, as long as one cell of our body holds back and disagrees with the others, our success is not assured.”

This reminds me of the all to familiar phrase, “Well, he meant it in the moment.”  A partial or half-truth is not dependable.  It’s also a bit of an oxy-moron.

I have, at times, failed by over-committing and offering too much on impulse.  Even though I had the best intentions in the moment, I wasn’t honest about what I could really bring to fruition.  Satya requires being realistic about our limitations.  After all, isn’t this empathetic honesty what lifts limits in the long run? Truthfulness is also being honest about what we can expect from others, especially family and friends.

Truth should not conflict with non-violence.  For example, we shouldn’t tell a bandit where our family is hiding and put them in danger.  The great Indian epic, the Mahabharata, which states:

“Speak the truth which is pleasant.  Do not speak unpleasant truths.  Do not lie, even if the lies are pleasing to the ear.  This is the eternal law, the dharma.”

You might deliver a hard truth to a friend who desperately needs intervention.  If that truth is delivered with love rather than harsh, non-empathetic accusation, it is well intended and ultimately “pleasant”.

Asteya: Non-Stealing

I feel the 3rd yama, asteya (non-stealing) is more self-explanatory.

Yoga Sutra II.37

asteya pratisthayam sarva ratna upasthanam

This translation is a compilation from Mr. B.K.S. Iyengar and Shri Guruji of Yoga Vidya Dham:

“If honesty and abstention from stealing are firmly established, precious things present themselves.”

When we cease to covet that which is not ours, others’ confidence in us grows.  By desiring less and living with greater honesty and respect, virtue ensues.

Feel free to comment about these first three yamas. Come back on Tuesday to read about the final two yamas: brahmacarya and aparigraha

Sophie Herbert is an alignment focused yoga teacher (and perpetual student), a singer-songwriter, and a visual artist. She has lived, studied, and volunteered extensively in India; teaches yoga in Brooklyn and Manhattan; and recently released her first full-length album, "Take a Clear Look." Please visit her website at SophieHerbert.com.

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