When I was a kid, I was the first place debater in New Jersey. If you know New Jersey, you know that this says a lot. Because, man, these folks can argue. They argue about parking spots, which booth to sit in at the diner, whose irritable bowel syndrome is worse, and who’d win in an arm wrestle, Bon Jovi or Springsteen.
My nickname was Silver Tongue and it was said that I could win any argument, get whatever I wanted, and talk my way out of anything.
This was not far off. I would use my words to buy booze, grademonger extra points on tests, and win every debate.
And, obviously, I lied to do this.
I lied that I was speeding because my colitis was flaring up; I made up facts during debates; and I concocted elaborate ruses to convince liquor store clerks that I was 22.
When I went off to college, I found yoga—and I stopped lying.
Yoga helped me slow down and feel. It made me more sensitive. I could feel my fear of getting caught, and even more so, I could feel the discomfort of being out of alignment. Yoga activated my moral compass.
Now I almost never lie—with the exception of white lies about the tooth fairy and whenever someone asks me if what they’re wearing makes them look chunky. For these, I forgo satya (truthfulness) and practice ahimsa (non-harming) instead.
But I never lie to win an argument or to get what I want.
And it feels amazing.
Like yesterday. For the first time in 10 years, I was stopped by a police officer. I was in a rush and had blatantly ignored a large “no left turn” sign along with two neon orange cones.
As I waited for the cop to approach my window, the old thoughts bubbled up. Three very effective lies materialized in my mind—I knew I could leave the scene with no ticket.
But I waved the lies away.
When I got home, my wife asked, “Were you nervous?”
Oddly, I was not. Even amid the flashing lights and the onlookers wondering what kind of trouble I was in, my heart never raced and my breathing never hastened. I was relaxed, empowered even. Actually, it was quite a high.
At first I wasn’t sure, but I think I figured it out. I got a $36 moving violation and maybe a point or two on my license. These are unfortunate, yes, but they are nothing, nothing, compared to the pain of lying, of worrying that I’ll get caught, and of being out of alignment.
In truth there is empowerment. During the experience, I never lied or stepped outside my integrity. I was planted strongly in my truest self. I could have saved $36, but at what cost? Seated in my true self, I was unshakable and blissed-out and, for that moment, I embodied the very aim and spirit of yoga.
Brian Leaf is a Kripalu Yoga teacher and the author of Misadventures of a Garden State Yogi: My Humble Quest to Heal My Colitis, Calm My ADD, and Find the Key to Happiness.