Svadhyaya – How can I get to know myself better? Sharing from my experience and learnings in yoga.

How well do you know yourself? Take 10 mins to journal and think about this:

  1. How do you define yourself?
  2. How do others define you?
  3. How do you want others to define you?
  4. How do you view the world?

Svadhyaya, the fourth Niyama of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, means ‘self-study.’ The word itself is made up of Sva, meaning own, self, or the human soul, and Adhyaya, meaning lesson, lecture, or reading, and can imply the practice of studying scriptures, as well as a practice of studying the Self.

I am currently doing this yoga teaching training on the weekends while juggling my 9-5 job. I used to journal on a regular basis, but in the past month, I found it difficult to find quiet time to journal and pay attention to myself. I often find myself jumping from one task to another, rarely pausing and asking myself, why am I doing this? Even as I am writing this post!

Sometimes, the act of jumping from one thing to another endlessly leads me to burnout.

Often when i first sit down to meditate, or journal, I notice my mind fluttering, thoughts incoming from all places. It could be about how I felt I did, or a thought about what someone said to me, or things I needed to do. Sometimes I can be overly critical of myself, without knowing how my negative thoughts could define me, and it is most difficult to meditate in these moments because my subjective reality seemed like the one true reality. I think we’ve all kind of been there.

“yoga chitta vritti nirodha”

– Patanjali

It means that yoga is the removing of the fluctuations of the mind. Yoga is the stilling of the mind until it rests in a state of total and utter tranquility, so that one experiences life as it is: as Reality.

Noticing, being aware

To me, Svadhyaya is about building awareness of my subconsciousness. In my inner work experience, and amongst the leadership and personal development courses i have attended – as well as this yoga teacher training – noticing bodily sensations and our emotions is a good way to start. Noticing how I feel is a way of connecting to who I am. It is the deepest form of self-acknowledgement we can give ourselves, to give voice to our inner experience. When we can actually name these sensations and emotions, we create distance – and recognise that we are not our feelings and thoughts.

This is an invitation for you to also notice what you say to yourself, how you define yourself, as our emotions hold stories in our heads. What is that story about?

Awareness leads to choice. Whether you are aware of it, we are making choices in each and every moment. But sometimes we don’t recognise it. What we eat, how we dress, and even how we talk to ourselves is a (unintentional?) choice! I recognise that I will only change my choices (intentionally) if I pause to notice my experience and who I am within these places and contexts.

Actioning on your choice

Now that we’ve connected with our emotions, sensations, experience and found some way to language it – it’s time to take action!

Changing habitual behaviors requires one to be intentional and often taking an action we don’t normally do. Some of these actions could look like: restraint, or open-heartedness, or non-judgment, or making a request, or patience, or boundary-setting. This is the most uncomfortable but the most pivotal moment!

For example, I can smell a conversation I need to have but want to avoid from mile away. At times, I get into my head and think about whether there are good reasons to not have it and have a short internal dialogue (sometimes, too long. haha). I acknowledge that the discomfort comes from a feeling, notice in my body and from my initial reaction what that feeling is, jump to the opposite action and have the conversation. This is very pivotal because the action often helps me to get out of my head, and proves that my initial assessment may not be true. But if i never took the action, i will never know!

Here’s an encouragement: at the very worst, it will be uncomfortable to do something differently. At best, you can learn a behavior that is helpful to you or an effective way to be in relationship with others. Either way, you can never know until you try!

Accepting your internal experience

This is often the hardest for me, as sometimes i tend to hold back myself for whatever reasons – not allowing myself rest when I need it, not allowing praise as i think i don’t deserve it, not sharing what I truly feel in fear of offending others, not asking questions with fear of looking stupid. Now it’s important to note that there is no wrong or right, but to acknowledge this human struggle in my experience and accept it.

The reason why I placed this last is i think acceptance requires some time.

What I realised that helps me, is to pluck some courage and take action first. Slowly I realised – allowing the praise in doesn’t mean i am proud, it is to celebrate myself and my achievements; sharing what I feel is not only about respecting myself but also others, that I am placing trust in the relationship we have; asking questions is a way to connect to my curiosity, and to build connection with others.

I’ll like to end this post with a Svadhyaya practice i found from Ekhartyoga:

A Self-study practice

Observe yourself as though you were watching someone else; observe the way you speak to friends and family, the way you react when plans change, the way you hold yourself when walking or sitting, or even just the way in which you get dressed each morning… it all tells the story of who and how we are in this moment.

The practice of svadhyaya requires satya (honesty) in order to view ourselves from an honest standpoint, tapas (discipline) – because taking an honest look at ourselves isn’t always something we like doing…. And ahimsa (non violence) which reminds us to look upon ourselves without judgement or criticism.

“Yoga is the journey of the self, through the self, to the Self” – The Bhagavad Gita

— By Amelia Lim