07/02/2013 10:37 am ET Updated Sep 01, 2013

The Principle of Truth

Health and fitness are more than a body experience. I think we would all agree that in truth they are a body-mind experience. That is why in practicing yoga, it is essential that we look at the principles that define the real nature of the practice. Yoga is so much more that simply a series of poses. The poses give us an opportunity to come together and practice the principles first in body and then in mind.

A downward-facing dog, for example, is a full body pose. It stretches all the muscles in the back, shoulders, belly, and back of the calves and thighs. It also strengthens the arms and helps to alleviate neck pain and tension. It stimulates the abdominal organs and strengthens the abdominal muscles. Down dog can be used as a warm up for yoga, jogging, cycling or other athletic pursuits.

Down dog also affects your psyche. In down dog, we close our eyes and breathe deep, feeling the strength of the pose. The whole body is engaged. Stability is achieved. The breathing and the surrender of the weight of the body into the pose teaches us a noble truth: that we can be both strong and stable and surrender to a calm and peaceful place at the same time. In truth, strength and calmness are one. Therefore, down dog is a body-mind experience. It is so much more than simply an asana.

According to yoga, Truth is one of the yamas or the rightful and ethical way to live life. The yamas are a path or stage of yoga that teaches us how to live a spiritual life. The problem with the truth is that we need to define rightful and ethical, and rightful and ethical may be different in different cultures. For example, we might say it is unethical and wrong to kill an animal for food. Yet, in some cultures it is the killing and eating of the meat that allows the individuals to survive. Therefore, it is not ethical or right for us to impose our definition of truthfulness onto others.

In yoga, the classic definition of living the truth is that we should seek to do no harm and always choose to do what is the greatest good for the greatest many. In this we will always be living from a place of truth.

Truthfulness, like all the yamas, have three components: intellectual, verbal and physical. First you must intellectualize and define the truth. Then you can speak the truth and finally put it into action. Therefore, truthfulness becomes a unification of thoughts, words and actions. For in truth you are what you think, say and do.

Here is where it gets tricky. Words that harm another person are not truthful, and if speaking these words hurt another person, they should not be spoken. According to yoga, we should examine all our words carefully and speak only those words that are useful and good. We should intent no harm.

Let's say we think someone has put on a little weight. We know they are a very sensitive and easily hurt. They ask us if it looks like they have put on weight. What do we say? If we say yes, we are hurting the person's feelings. If we say no, we are not telling the truth as we see it. What should we do?

Just remember that sometimes complication arises when virtuous words lead to hurt. As you practice the physical part of yoga, remember each pose has an opposing view and yet both views are elements of and compliment the truth. Strength and surrender are truly one in the same.

Doctor Lynn

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