Today we return to the theme topic of the niyamas of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, specifically addressing the fourth: svadhyaya. As a context reminder, the yamas in Yoga are the “do nots” -things we are advised to constrain from doing; while the niyamas are like the “”do’s”- the “do-not constraints,” things we are encouraged to do. The niyamas are essentially comprised of actions of self-love that support a happy, harmonious and spiritual life.
The breakdown of the Sanskrit word svadhyaya goes as follows: sva, means “self,” and adhyaya, means “lesson/lecture/reading.” Another interpretation could be derived from dyhai, which means “meditate/contemplate.” So svadhyaya basically means the study of the self.
The study of the self in the yogic sense of the word goes beyond the Western approach of psychoanalysis. It is more about the study of our Higher Self, our eternal self. It is about realizing the true nature of our being – who we really are. Creating space for introspection definitely supports this process!
YOUR ESSENCE IS DIVINE
To quote Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra: “Study thy self, discover the divine” II.44
Self-realization is the aim of most spiritual practice. And our Self is divine. I personally love svadhyaya because it helps me to be in a constant state of mindful awareness and self-inquiry. Asking myself where my actions are coming from has opened up my eyes about many layers of my being – shedding light on many aspects to be worked on. Seeing how I can recognize the essential divinity in myself and everything around me has added such profound spiritual value to my life, as has recognizing this essence in others too.
Studying and reading anything about the Self, or anything that will help you to connect with and understand your (Highest) self will present you with a great opportunity to observe svadhyaya. Find any books which support you in deepening your practice. While this blog is not meant to market literature, there are a few recommendations we can refer you to. Books I have been studying recently and would definitely recommend are: Autobiography of a Yogi by Paramahansa Yogananda (1946), The Untethered Soul by Michael A. Singer (2007), The Undivided Self by The Swami Venkatesananda (1977), and Eastern Body, Western Mind by Anodea Judith (1996). Swami Satchidananda, an Indian spiritual teacher and yoga adept, who became famous in the West and wrote several philosophical and spiritual books, speaks of svadhyaya as the “study that concerns the true Self, not merely analyzing the emotions and mind as the psychologists and psychiatrists do. Anything that will elevate your mind and remind you of your true Self should be studied: the Bhagavad Gita, the Bible, the Koran, the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, or any uplifting scripture. Study.”
Remember that it is not only about reading, but also about understanding what you have learnt – integrating and living it.
WHAT ELSE CAN YOU DO?
There are many other activities you can take upon yourself to deepen your observance of svadhyaya. You can practice svadhyaya in more ways than might initially meet the eye by embracing it as a yogic attitude, a modality of being so to say.
1. Examine yourself. Question your actions. Question your beliefs. Practice self-inquiry in general (The Work of Byron Katie is a great tool to support you in this).
2. Practice mindfulness. Mindfulness does not require any action from you in particular, it is all about simply paying attention. For example, observe yourself on your mat – what kind of thoughts and emotions bubble up? what is your breath like? where are you tense, and possibly challenged? what do you enjoy? Take nothing for granted, see it all as a lesson to take you further…deeper…closer to yourself.
Yoga is the journey of the self, through the self, to the Self” – The Bhagavad Gita
3. By becoming conscious of all that which you are not, you can come closer to yourself. Some of the things which you are not are for example your ego, your emotions, and your thoughts. Discern that which is not you in essence, but rather a part, or layer of your being by asking yourself questions such as: who is the voice in your head that limits you from living out your best potential? Then zoom out, and try to get to the real core of your true and essential Self by witnessing the witness: who is the one experiencing your life? Who is feeling saddened by a wave of a painful emotion? Who is enjoying the cup of tea? Who is the one reading all of this? Do not judge. Just observe.
4. Explore both inner worlds and outer worlds. As much as we can learn about ourselves by studying ourselves, we can also come to know ourselves better by seeking to understand others (rather than judging). Others function as mirrors in our lives. And in our process of getting to know them (and the world around us) better, we end up getting to know ourselves better too. Like a loop. This is because everything is connected. That universal connection is the reason Yoga means union.
5. Still your mind, so that your Self can be revealed. See the divine in yourself. As Swami Vivekananda said: “Where can we go to find God if we cannot see Him in our own hearts and in every living being?”
A note I would like to add on the topic of Self-Realization is that the Self is ultimately whole. So, seek for wholeness by seeing the big picture of it all, and living a holistic life.The more you practice yoga, the more you will see the unfolding of your daily life merging with yoga philosophy. Your individual consciousness is deeply connected to universal consciousness. It is a part of it, never separate. To realize this, is the goal of svadhyaya. As we come to know ourselves better, we begin to understand that we are like drops of the ocean, and, as the buddhist song goes, the only way from stopping a drop of water from ever drying up, is by throwing it back into the ocean.
Sat Chit Ananda (Truth-Consciousness-Bliss).
Aldona from saktiisha yoga centre