The Principles of Satya and Asteya: Incorporating Yoga Philosophy Into Your Class
Although most yoga classes in our days tend to be focused on asana, yoga is so much more than just a physical practice. Yoga, as described in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, is made up of an eightfold path, with each one of the eight steps in this path guiding us towards connecting with our true inner selves and living a happier and more purposeful life.
And this promise of a happier and more purposeful life can be a great motive for us to try and adopt this eightfold path – first in our practice on the mat and then, gradually, in our daily lives off the mat.
The first step in Patanjali’s eightfold path consists of the five Yamas, which refer to our ethical guidelines and moral vows to be practiced at all times – in our actions, our speech and our thoughts. Last time, we talked about the first yama – ahimsa (non-violence) – and how we as yoga teachers can draw inspiration from the concept and incorporate it into yoga classes that will in turn inspire our students to walk their own path. The next four yamas likewise offer a great source of inspiration.
Next in line come the second and third yamas; Satya and Asteya. Satya translates to truthfulness and in practice it means being honest both with ourselves and with those around us, in our thoughts, words and actions. Asteya refers to the practice of non-stealing, which extends beyond just material possessions.
Only awareness can help us realize whether we are being honest with ourselves.
With the rich tradition and philosophy of yoga still being relevant in the western world of our days, we as yoga teachers can create inspiring – and even powerfully transformative – yoga classes for our students, by finding inspiration and wisdom in ancient texts such as the Yoga Sutras or the Bhagavad Gita. And just like with ahimsa, the principles of Satya and Asteya offer us a great opportunity to do so. Are you wondering how? Read on and find out!
Begin With a Short Lecture
Introduce your students to the concepts of Aatya and Asteya by starting your class with a short lecture. Remind them that, as the ancient yogic texts suggest, yoga goes far beyond asana and is actually a state of being. Explain that asana and pranayama are just two of the steps in Patanjali’s eightfold path towards enlightenment and liberation. And that this path begins with practicing five ethical rules – the five yamas. As you have already talked about ahimsa, it’s time to move on to the second and third yamas; Aatya and Asteya.
Let your students know that Satya in Sanskrit means truthfulness and that it refers to being honest with ourselves and the others, both in the way we act and speak and in the way we think. Tell them that Asteya translates as non-stealing and it is about not craving for what does not belong to us.
Discuss about what one earns when they become firmly grounded in Satya and Asteya. According to Patanjali, when Satya is achieved, the yogi’s wills are naturally fulfilled, while when Asteya is established, all treasures of the world present themselves. And with such claims, your job to motivate your students to approach these qualities starting with their practice on the mat will be rather easy. So encourage them to bring a sense of honesty and self-sufficiency in the practice that will follow.
Bring Satya and Asteya into Practice
Just like with ahimsa, the key to incorporating Satya and Asteya into our yoga practice is awareness. Only awareness can help us realize whether we are being honest with ourselves. And it is awareness that will help us notice if greed arises during our practice.
As a yoga teacher, you probably often watch students feeling that there are certain asanas they should be able to get into and getting frustrated and judging themselves, if they find out they actually can’t. And you most likely have caught yourself feeling the same way too. Remind your students – and yourself – that the only way to honestly explore our bodies and to get closer to our truth is by looking past our ego telling us what we should be able to do. And that they have a very powerful tool to help – their own mindful breath.
When teaching an asana your students are struggling to get into, ask them to take a moment to observe their breath, as it will be telling them a lot about their truth. Tell them that if they find their breath being shallow and quick, they have probably pushed too far and should be taking a step back.
When it comes to practicing Asteya on the mat, it all comes down to getting over the thought that we are not good enough.
Take Vrkshasana (tree pose) for example. Some students might be trying too hard to hold their balance with one foot on their inner thigh, while they could also get into the pose with their toes touching the ground or place one hand on a wall for support. The moment you notice that, ask them to observe if they’re breathing or if they will soon be turning blue. Invite them to practice Satya by accepting what is.
When it comes to practicing Asteya on the mat, it all comes down to getting over the thought that we are not good enough. And with all these images of the perfect body in the perfect asana all around, we can actually fall in the trap of craving for someone else’s practice and feeling bad about our limitations quite easily.
Encourage your students to focus on their own practice and their own strengths and abilities. Remind them that every practice looks different and that there’s no practice better than the other, as we are all on different paths. Let them know that when they are focusing on what others in class are doing, or when fear holds them back from trying a new pose, they are actually stealing from their own experience.
Another great way to introduce your students to the concept of Asteya is by asking them to show up on time and quietly take their place or leave class earlier if they have too. Explain that arriving late will deprive them from experiencing the full benefits of the class, and that by noisily rushing in (or out) and throwing their mat and bags down they will probably steal someone else’s peace in class.
The rich yogic philosophy and tradition offers as plenty of opportunities to draw inspiration from deities, mythical creatures, ideas and concepts, just like ahimsa, Satya and Asteya, which can change the way we as yoga teachers and practitioners see yoga.
Don’t hesitate to dive in and incorporate them into yoga classes that will in turn inspire your students both on and off the mat. And remember that there is no need to sound profound to make a difference. Just share your own truth and that’s enough! You can read the next part in this series here!