Satya: truth and authenticity

The deeper aspect of satya is being authentic and operating from your place of truth.

Satya is the second of the yamas, the yogic laws of universal morality. It translates from Sanskrit as “truth.” The basic principle is honesty: practicing satya means being honest, not lying, and not omitting information.

But the deeper aspect of satya is being authentic and operating from your place of truth.

Being authentic means that you are who you are, whether people like it or not.

How does that sit with you? Do you feel any deep-belly, queasy sensations?  If you’re having a visceral reaction to the idea of disregarding the opinion of others, it may be because you’ve spent a lot of your life trying to make sure people like you. And that, my friend, is bullsh*t.

Now let’s pause there: I’m not advocating that you make no effort to be connected to your fellow mankind. Community is one of the most important and powerful aspects of our lives. We need others.

But we have to balance our need for community and connection with our responsibility to ourselves. We have to be who we are, authentically. You do you, as the current prescription goes.

I love this picture because I’m not posing for the camera. The image captures connection, honesty, authenticity, truth. It shows my unbridled joy at my daughter’s smile. And also my hair looks amazing.

When we are ourselves, when we operate from a place of deep truth and honesty, our true community will emerge. We will find our tribe.

But in the interim, it can be scary to speak up, act, and choose things that those around us may be startled by or not approve of. It is an act of tremendous bravery, especially if you’ve made a habit of putting others before yourself. But it’s a requirement of living a full, true life. There is no other choice.



Every emotion has an attendant breath

With every breath, you have the power to change the way you feel.

When you’re sad, you breathe a certain way. When you’re angry, anxious, or fearful, you breathe a certain way. And when you’re surprised, joyful, happy—there’s a corresponding breath for each of those, too. Whatever emotion you’re experiencing, your breath reveals it and mirrors it. Your breath informs it and reflects it. There is a relationship between the two: what you feel and how you breathe.

(And just to bring it home, pause here and try it. How do you breathe when you’re happy? Okay, how about when you’re angry? What about when you’re worried? Take a moment to tap into the breath you automatically go to for each emotion.)

Once we realize that our breath and our emotional state have a connection, we can start to shift our emotions by noticing (and changing) our breathing. Truthfully, you already know to do that: consider that when you encounter a friend who is upset, you instinctively offer support to your friend by saying “just breathe” or “take a breath.” You know attending to the breath can help someone regain a sense of groundedness when their emotional state feels out of control.

Close your eyes and breathe, deeply and slowly, for 5 full breaths. Powerful stuff.

In yoga, breath practices are called “pranayama,” which translates to “breath control.” There are many types of breathing offered by yogic philosophy: breathing through one nostril to calm (left nostril) or energize (right nostril); breathing equally through each nostril to balance (called nadi shodhana or anuloma viloma); taking short rapid breaths to feel more awake and encourage core awareness, big exhalations through the mouth to cool and calm (simhasana, or lion’s breath, accomplishes that.) These are just a few types of pranayama. There are many more.

Here I’m practicing simhasana  (lion’s breath), which is cooling and calming. (With those sunglasses, though, I don’t need much more coolness, am I right?)

There are many breaths to learn about and study, if that interests you. It’s fascinating!

But in my own practice, I find that simply deepening and slowing my breathing can have big results.

Deep and slow breathing changes things physiologically: we bring more oxygen into our lungs, our parasympathetic nervous system turns on, and as a result we feel calmer and more in control. We have more spaciousness in our emotional landscape. We relax a little more. Our emotions shift.

Yoga poses and meditation are super important practices, but breathwork can be done regardless of circumstances: it’s ninja-like. You can do it anywhere and no one knows. You can change your breath mid-meeting, mid-argument, mid-presentation—you don’t need special props or a yoga mat.

The next time you’re flooded with emotions, go to your breath and see what’s happening there. Slow it down. Deepen it. Then watch the power, magic, and beauty of just breathing.


Hungry for emotional popcorn?

Emotions pop up as quickly as a kernel of popcorn goes from inedible to fluffy goodness.

Every day, all day we’re inundated by emotional responses. Some of these are groovy, sweet emotions and some of these are lame, annoying emotions. (And sometimes all the lame emotions flood in at once, like when you’re on one of those customer service phone calls from hell. Just the worst.)

These little jabs of feeling? I like to think of them as emotional popcorn. Yep.

I ate all of that. Every bite.

I really like popcorn. At least once a week, I make it on the stove the old-fashioned way: in a pan with salt and oil. It’s a pretty fun snack to eat, and it’s just as much fun to cook. The kernels heat up, the sizzling starts, and then anticipation builds until ping! pop!—the popping begins.

Emotions often come over us as quickly as a kernel of corn goes from inedible to fluffy goodness. Ping! Anger. Pop! Frustration. Ping! Anxiety. Ping! Pop! Pop! When we feel the emotions start to pop up, we get to make a choice: are we going to eat the popcorn?

Much of the practice of yoga centers on this idea—noticing that there IS actually space between provocation and reaction. You can feel an emotion (anger, for instance) and not eat that emotional popcorn. You can feel it and see it and choose not to engage it at the moment. The starting point is to be aware. To notice. To feel the emotion begin and then choose whether or not you’re going to shove it in your mouth. (Sometimes it’s just too damn tempting. Sometimes you eat a big bowl of popcorn, handful after handful. And that’s okay, too.)

But that space? That pause? That path between action and reaction? That comes from breathing while you move. From staying in a pose a smidge longer than your quads want you to. That comes from being present, even in challenging poses. And then really letting go in savasana. Your practice on the mat is a microcosm for your life.

So this week, whether you’re on your mat or on the phone call with Time Warner, just notice. Just notice the pop of emotion. And see what happens next.

Have 10 minutes? Do some yoga:

Simple Yoga Sequence for Waking Up the Body

  • Begin on your hands and knees in Table Pose; play in Cat-Cow: move your spine and stretch your body, finding what feels good
  • Slowly root through your feet and move to Downward Facing Dog; squirm around in this pose, and stay here for 5-10 breaths
  • Move back to Table Pose
  • Rest in Child’s Pose
  • Move to standing and come to Mountain Pose
  • Inhale, lift arms overhead; exhale, clasp your hands and lean to one side. Take 3 breaths. Inhale through center and exhale, lean to the other side. Take 3 more breaths. Inhale through center and exhale, release your arms to your side.
  • Inhale, lift arms overhead; exhale, fold forward
  • Inhale, lift halfway (hands can come to shins or higher; lengthen your spine); exhale, fold forward
  • With your next inhalation return to Mountain Pose
  • Inhale, step your left foot back and move to Warrior I; stay in Warrior I for 3-5 breaths
  • Shift to Warrior II; stay in Warrior II for 3-5 breaths
  • Return to Mountain Pose and repeat Warrior I and II, this time stepping your right foot back
  • Return to Downward-Facing Dog and and move your spine again, stretching any places that still need to stretch, 5-10 breaths
  • Rest in Child’s Pose or transition to Resting Pose (Savasana Pose) for at least 2 minutes.