As we continue exploring concepts from the Yamas and the Niyamas laid out in the Yoga Sutras, it strikes me that this month’s theme—Satya—is an especially interesting one for the times that we’re living in. In an era of “alternative facts,” and a world in which we’re delivered different versions of reality depending on our social media preferences, the notion of truth can begin to feel disturbingly slippery.
It’s one of the basic questions that has inspired philosophers for centuries: what is the nature of truth and reality? How do we determine what’s true?
Facts Vs. Truth
It seems a crucial aspect of this discussion is understanding that facts and truth—while related—hit us at different levels. Perhaps it can be said that facts are verifiable details that come together to tell the larger story of a truth.
This is where practice comes in. So much of the Yoga Sutras revolves around the notion of stilling the fluctuations of the mind, finding ways to free ourselves from habitual thoughts and responses to that we can see what’s really in front of us—rather than looking through the lens of what we already believe to be true.
Feeling states can have an intense effect on how we interpret information. When we’re feeling afraid, for example, it’s easy to begin filtering facts and information in ways that confirm our fears. Maybe because we want to feel that our fear is justified? Or because an explanation that feels familiar somehow also feels safe—because it doesn’t require us to question whether our fears are rational?
This is a way in which the yoga practice can become quietly revolutionary. By gently guiding us to question our habitual thought patterns, yoga practice can help us to see things with fresh eyes, without the baggage of previously established expectations. When we slow the breath, the nervous system calms—and as we find ourselves free, even if just for a moment, from the fight-or-flight mode that we all seem to spend so much time in. We begin to notice things—oh, my breath suddenly feels delighful when it expands into my upper back; wow, I had not realized how sweet it feels to relax my jaw—that otherwise might never come into view. It softens us a little, both toward ourselves and toward the world around us.
In this way, practice prepares us for a life that may not always give us what we expect. Having lived a little while, I’d say that’s a damn good thing. Life doesn’t ever seem to stop being surprising, so finding a way to respond well to surprises is a good strategy for all of us!
As winter melts into spring, we hope you’ll find some opportunities to look at the world, and your own life, with the honesty and openness of a fresh perspective. Try an unfamiliar new pose; introduce yourself to someone new in class; spend a whole practice with your eyes mostly closed. Truth is meant to grow. May our practice soften us enough to allow for that growth to happen!
Much love and thanks for reading,
Erin H/Indi Yoga