What is the truth and what does it mean to be truthful and honest? Vimela Thakar says in Glimpses of Raja Yoga, “Truthfulness means we are dedicated to the truth we perceive, to the truth we understand.”
But often our perception is cloudy and our understanding is full of misapprehension. If our glasses are muddy, we can’t see clearly. Our Yoga practice is a process of taking off layers of tension and tightness, as well as layers of illusion and misconceptions. In Yoga we learn to quiet our minds to cultivate awareness. As the awareness expands, our perception becomes clearer, and we come closer to the truth, seeing life as it is in each moment. To be truthful and honest is to experience the truth with pure perception and then express it with pure understanding and intentions.
A simple example is when students walk into class they are often not aware of the sound alignment for their knees, lower backs, and necks. They are not aware of their imbalances and healthy edge. But with practice, they become more aware and gradually learn to find their alignment, balance, and healthy edge in each pose. They learn to find their own truth in practice and then with honesty follow up and practice what they have learned with understanding and pure intentions.
But after becoming aware of the truth, we sometimes stretch the truth, shrink it, cover it up, or embellish it. Vimela continues, “So when you communicate that truth without underrating or overrating, without using superlative degrees, without putting in your excess feelings in it, you say you communicate as you have seen it. Truthfulness is harmony to the facts, harmony to the motive. If you hide your motivation, you are not truthful. If you have not done something and you pretend you have done something, then you have walked away from truthfulness.”
Then why do we stretch or cover up the truth? It often comes from feeling incomplete and from an incomplete past. We project on our selves what we should or shouldn’t do, what we ought or ought not do from external or internal messages. We seek the fruits and the rewards of the labor. Yet, the expectations often exceed the truth; what truly is, what we are, and what our true abilities are.
Let’s go back to our Yoga practice. Interestingly the way we practice our Yoga poses often mirrors how we live our lives. And as we reflect on our practice, we can learn and improve the quality of our lives in general.
What are some of the ways we might be dishonest in Yoga class? Sometimes we overdo and go beyond our edge because we feel we should go further or ought to be able to do more. We seek the “fruits of the labor” by trying to do the “finished” or “complete” pose before the body is ready by ignoring our limitations.
Instead of projecting an image or expectation on what our bodies should or shouldn’t do in each pose, we perceive what is and then with understanding and honesty express our true abilities in each movement and find fulfillment in each step on the way. The action is its own reward.
Another common way of being dishonest in class is avoiding the use of a prop even if we know that our body needs one due to lack of flexibility, strength, or injury. We avoid the use of props because we feel we might look less able or less than perfect. Some people are dishonest by holding back, day dreaming, or hiding behind their neighbor, but when the teacher walks up close, the legs and arms extend, the chest opens and the kneecaps go up. A senior Yoga teacher once said, “All you need in your home practice is a tape of the footsteps of a teacher coming………”
And some ways of being dishonest in our home practice are practicing the easy poses only and avoiding the more challenging ones. Or we focus on the more flexible or stronger side and avoid the tighter or weaker side as in shoulder stretches or balancing poses. Instead we cultivate honesty in our practice by giving extra attention to the weaker or tighter side and to the more challenging poses to invite balance, health, and healing.
The most common form of dishonesty is all the excuses we give ourselves and others. In Yoga, we find many excuses for not doing our home practice: no time, no space, work, kids, tired, just eaten, etc. I believe that if we are truly honest to ourselves, we can always find a few minutes to practice daily if we truly want to do Yoga.
Sri Swami Satchidananda in his Yoga Sutras of Patanjali sums it all up. “All nature loves an honest person. With establishment in honesty, the state of fearlessness comes. One need not be afraid of anybody and can always lead an open life. When there are no lies, the entire life becomes an open book. But this comes only with an absolutely honest mind. When the mind becomes clear and serene, the true self reflects without disfigurement, and we realize the truth in its own original name. So first follow truth and then truth will follow you.”