July 23, 2015

Addressing Exaggeration through the Yamas of Ashtanga Yoga.


To be honest, I’ve only met a few people in life who weren’t guilty of exaggerating on a regular basis.

So why do we exaggerate?

I believe there are a few conscious and unconscious motivations.

People often take opportunities to exaggerate when it makes them look good. We all know the character who puts extra abilities or experience on their job application. People exaggerate details to a story to make their lives seem more interesting, more attractive and even more unfortunate. Embellishing a story can enlist a multitude of feelings and responses, from admiration, inspiration and awe, to sympathy, disgust, and support. There are times when I’ve caught myself exaggerating compliments to uplift a friend or a student’s self-image or self-confidence.

Less conscious motivations can be harder to spot. To impress a possible date, to protect your job security, to make someone you don’t like seem worse in the eyes of others. Sometimes people exaggerate an issue just to fill the space. Have you ever felt discomfort during silence in a conversation and unconsciously chose an experience to blow out of proportion filling the otherwise serene moments with chatter? I know I have.

From a yogic stand point, I believe exaggeration is something the first three yamas—aka restraints or things yoga says you shouldn’t do if you want to stay well—of Ashtanga yoga can address.

So lets talk about Ahimsa, the art of non-violence.

To live in this way one must truly be in touch with self and ready to respond with the most creative and intelligent parts of our being. Exaggeration is mental abuse—to self, and other. It exhausts ones own energy creating a situation or adding details to something that did not occur. It clouds the mind and makes the truth hazy. Remember the telephone game? It starts with one sentence and by the end its almost always something new. And ridiculous. You can imagine if something you exaggerated was repeated to someone else who was involved. It could result in a friend or ourselves looking silly or less credible for things we’ve said. Non-harming includes the mental and emotional realms, not just physical. Is it worth the risk?

Which leads us to Satya, the beautiful way of truthfulness.

Anything else other than the facts of a situation or a feeling is untruthful. Countless stories exist throughout history of relationships being broken or opportunities lost over the lack of honesty. To exaggerate our skills or those of others can lead to very uncomfortable situations. It also drains your energy to make up untruthful things, leaving your mind and even your heart exhausted or feeling guilty. Lies destroy trust, and trust is the foundation of all relationships—anything but the truth is a step towards separation.

In my early adult years I had a little insecurity around my life experiences or lack thereof. I went through a period of feeling like I had to impress to gain friends and respect. One night I was talking to an older friend, a tall guy and a lead singer in a band. He was just way too cool. We were sharing stories about parties and drinking experiences but because I wanted to seem interesting, I reworked a story as I went along. Something about a party and a swimming hole and a hotel room. It was probably easy to see through, considering I relied on the fact that I was “really drunk that night.” Looking back, I wonder why I thought that would leave an impact. Most likely, I made myself look silly, young and energetically unattractive. It definitely put up a wall between me and that friend—a wall of inauthenticity. Its easy to sense when someone isn’t being truthful, its the best repellant for connection. But honestly, whether my friend noticed or not, the fact is, I felt fake, unseen and stuck. The person that suffered the most was me, because every time I saw that friend I felt the guilt of my untruth and I kept myself at a distance.

Exaggerating—intentional or not—is a nasty poison for friendships, new and old. So whats the remedy I gave myself? Stick to the truth. True experiences, true feelings, true you.

Finally, Asteya non-stealing in heart, mind, and form.

Ever notice how exaggerating takes up extra time? It fills in gaps of a conversation that might have left things clear and concise, it takes information that is easily and clearly conveyed and make it a mess, a jumble. Why take up time you don’t need? Why affect the motion of things? What can be gained and is needed?

In many articles I see Asteya related to necessity and I love the way of explaining it. Imagine you were eating dinner and you’ve just reached the point of being satisfied. You could save the rest of this meal to share with a friend or a stranger, but instead you decide to eat it. It not only leaves you with a tummy ache, it also leaves another person’s needs and happiness unconsidered. Just the same when exaggerating, we risk taking up someone’s time, along with mental and emotional energy for something unnecessary and untrue. One thing goes to waste, while another is left to do without. We might not just steal time and energy of the person we interact with, we might also steal their time, focus and energy from others. The affects often go far beyond the moment of interaction. Subtle or not, this is something to consider.

I notice exaggeration in many people around me, even in myself. Yes, I admit it and I’ve been watching myself with a keen eye—practicing simplicity and, through that, finding much more clarity and connection in my daily life.

For others, I’ve been playing with responses to exaggeration that protect me, my energy and time, while still showing respect and perhaps awakening of other to let go of exaggeration.

Each interaction is completely its own, so there really is no way I could give you the perfect response, you’ll have to use your own creativity and finesse to accomplish that. I base my response off of level of familiarity, sensitivity of the person and the subject matter, level of understanding, spiritual/philosophical background, my own energy, the quality of my emotions and level of patience, to name a few. At the very least, these are important things to consider, especially if there is someone present in your life who you’d like to shift out of exaggeration with. As in any confrontation, I do my very best to develop my thoughts and feelings around the issue with love as the main ingredient.

Before I allow myself to approach the situation I take time to question my intentions:

Will we both benefit from a shift in this area of communication?
Does my attention and allowance of exaggeration benefit my partner, student or friend more then it exhausts me?
Do I need to address this situation or just create more space in this relationship?

Many things can be considered carefully, compassionately towards purselves and others. Carefully set the improvement for all as the main goal and approach the situation with a heart and mind for collaboration.

Relate your own actions to connect, add humor when appropriate, and be prepared to allow for time to process the information. If your intentions and approach truly comes from love, you can be sure positive changes will occur.

And always remember—the ultimate good isn’t always the desired outcome but it is always liberating. Eventually.

Now, before you go out exterminating exaggeration around you, reflect on the exaggerations that come from within you. From my experience, thats always the best place to start.


Author: Alex Halenda

Editor: Katarina Tavčar

Photo: Clément/Flickr

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