The ethical guideline of truthfulness

The second yama of Patajali's eight-limbed path is Satya, or truthfulness.

So we have to ask then, what is ultimate truth? Recent research in neurophysiology has shown that contrary to popular belief or doctrine, we humans are not very rational or logical beings, MOST of the time. Our reality is shaped by the colour lenses we are wearing, which, in turn, is a product of our past traumas, conditionings and beliefs, whether they serve us, or not. And so we RE-act rather than ACT in repose to what life throws at us, especially when we have been triggered. In other words, when a current situation is a close or close enough match to a previous experience where we have suffered some form of adversity.

When we look at this scenario in the brain, it is what is commonly known as amygdala hijacking. The amgydala is the part of the brain responsible for scanning the environment for threads and for fear processing. The prefrontal cortex on the other hand, is involved in planning complex cognitive behaviour, decision making, executive functioning and moderating social behaviour. When we have been triggered, the prefrontal cortex is bypassed in processing stimuli, and the signal from our senses go straight to the amygdala, and from there, a stress response is initiated. We all know from experience that when the sympathetic nervous system is activated, we run on ‘autopilot mode’, where we do not have the opportunity to assess which thought, words, or actions would be the most truthful.

One way that we can slow down the response to stimuli and be present in every moment and see things for how they really are, is to practice mindful meditation. A daily practice we can use to help us un-identify with irrational thoughts, is to simply take some time observing each thought and emotion as it arises, watching it as it passes without getting caught up in it. Don’t worry if this seems difficult at first, it’s called a practice for a reason. This is about learning and accepting that all emotions and situations come and go and are in fact not permanent or true. Being more mindful in all our interactions helps to slow down the response to stimuli, and create a fraction more time to process situations. So there is more time to see situations clearly and truthfully for what they really are, rather than reacting blindly to the stimulus.

When it comes to speaking your truth, specifically, satya is about restraint: about slowing down, assessing, carefully considering our words so that when we choose them, they are in harmony with the first yama, ahimsa, and not with our preconceived ideas and beliefs. One very simple way of speaking our truth, is by paying closer attention to the breath. If it is shallow and erratic, we are most probably not using our prefrontal cortex’s. Simply slow down the breathing and make it deep, then speak.

We can practice satya on the yoga mat, for as we all know, there is nowhere to hide when it is us and the yoga mat, and this is often the place we get to take a good look at ourselves, our habits, and our state of mind….For example, how many times have you ignored or pushed past an injury or limitation just to get into that yoga posture? This is a dishonesty with ourselves that does not allow for us to ‘hold space’ for ourselves.

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