Satya – Dharmic Intention

For the remainder of August, the Shala will participate in the Dharmic Intention of Satya.

According to Wikipedia, Satya “is the Sanskrit word for truth. It also refers to a virtue in Indian religions, referring to being truthful in one’s thought, speech and action. In Yoga, satya is one of five yamas, the virtuous restraint from falsehood and distortion of reality in one’s expressions and actions.”

The yogic practice of satya (truth) focuses on carefully choosing our words so they do the least harm and most good.

In the Yoga Sutra (Chapter II, verse 30), Patanjali presents to yoga students the concept of satya (truth) as a similar teaching. But he offers a slightly different slant. Satya is one of the five yamas, or restraints, that practitioners are to incorporate into their lives. (The other four are ahimsa, nonviolence; asteya, nonstealing; brahmacharya, sexual continence; and aparigraha, noncovetousness.)


The following excerpt is from Yoga Journal, “Start Practicing Satya (Truth) On and Off Your Mat” by Judith Hanson Lasater

Satya is the Language of Observation

I have found much help for deepening my practice of satya in the teachings of Nonviolent Communication (NVC), developed by Marshall Rosenberg, Ph.D. For one thing, his work has helped me more carefully separate my judgments from my observations.

Instead of saying, “This room is a mess,” I now might say, “This room does not meet my ‘need’ for order.” The first sentence is a judgment; the second one is an observation. In the first sentence, I am imposing my standards on the world; in the second, I am simply and clearly expressing my needs in this moment. (“Needs” is the terminology used in NVC; it might be more in keeping with yoga philosophy to call these “desires.”)

The practice of yoga is about becoming clearly self-aware. As I practice yoga over the years, I work to become increasingly aware of my perceptions and beliefs—and to acknowledge they are only my individual perceptions and beliefs. To speak as if they are “truth” with a capital “T” is not to live in reality, and it’s certainly not the practice of satya. If I say that someone or something is “bad,” my words may be spoken as a truth, but it is actually just an opinion. I am not suggesting that we try to attain some, perfect state and attempt to avoid evaluating anything.

If we did this, we could not judge which shirt to put on in the morning. I am suggesting instead that we focus on our thoughts and speech so we that we become aware if and when we choose to judge. By being aware that I am judging, I can make clear to myself and others that I am not claiming access to ultimate truth. In reality, of course, no one person can legitimately claim that.

Even when we are practicing yoga, we can easily confuse observation and judgment. In the studio, for example, it is not uncommon to have judgments about a pose we find unpleasant. When the teacher suggests we try such a pose, one of the following judgments may pass through the mind. First, we might say to ourselves, “This pose does not do anything useful” (judging the pose). Or we may inwardly judge the teacher. Finally, and probably most commonly, we think, “What’s wrong with me that I cannot do this pose?” (judging ourselves).

When we use speech that expresses judgment, we limit ourselves and others. In this case, we limit ourselves by putting the pose, the teacher, or ourselves in a box, a box labeled “bad.” We lose track of the fact that it is not the pose which is bad, nor the teacher, nor us. Rather, “bad” is an interpretation that arises within us. Whether we speak them out loud or silently, such judgments are not satya.

An alternative way to speak to ourselves about a difficult pose is to say, “I am having trouble with this pose right now.” When we use speech this way, whether silently or out loud, a very different atmosphere for learning is created. To make the observation that I am having trouble right now makes no statement at all about the pose itself, the teacher, or my worth as a student. Neither does it ordain that things will not change. When I use the language of observation, I give myself the space and freedom to change right now or at any point in the future.