We spend a great deal of learning in school. It’s drilled in us that when we study, it’ll bring good grades. Whether it is academics, a job, sports or an instrument, to learn to do something well, we must first examine and learn the various tasks by reading information, observing our trainer and practicing the new skill. Observation and evaluation never stops when we leave school. We can apply these into our daily lives.
Svadhyaya, the fourth Niyama of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, means ‘self-study.’ In anything that we do, which cultivates self reflective consciousness, can be considered Svadhyaya. It means to be mindful of finding self awareness and our daily activities without pushing away our limitations. We are all made out of a self identity, personality, habits and are sometimes driven by ego and pride. In order to move forward, we need to get really intimate with these habits, behaviors, and perceptions so that we can identify where they’re not serving us. This awareness can bring great change by allowing us to be more aware of the things we do that harm us.
Growing up, I struggled with anxiety and for a while it took a toll on my mental health. Everything that is taught to be Svadhyaya, I was doing the total opposite. I avoided situations that made me uncomfortable. I never questioned why my mind was spiraling and I let it take control of my emotions and lashed out. I felt very detached from myself and wasn’t listening to what my body needed.
As I received the help I needed, my mind recovered, but I still do have bouts of anxiety, albeit very rarely. Having a moment to check in with myself and how I am feeling in the moment – a moment of self enquiry and looking inwards keeps me in-tune with myself.
With that said, here are ways to practice Svadhyaya
Keeping a journal is the easiest way to pen down the goings the day and is a great tool to use to contemplate and reflect upon all that we’re learning. Take the time to look inwards and root out if the heart felt heavy throughout the day. Maybe your mind was busier today than any others. Instead of blocking out these thoughts, it is more beneficial to recognize and acknowledge them for what they are. This awareness teaches us more about ourselves. Realising what thoughts enter our mind on a regular basis helps us become aware of many other aspects of ourselves.
To fully understand and grasp all that we’re learning about ourselves, we need ample time to write it all down and reflect upon what we find.
Svadhyaya on the mat
During our yoga practice, we include Svadhyaya by observing the responses of our body and the reactions of our mind. Listen to the body and take the variations of the asanas that you need. It may be to take the vinyasa today or to rest in Adho Mukha Svanasana, Downward Facing Dog.
Observe all of your relationships. Ask yourself “How am I treating my partner, friend, parent or that waitress?” Question your speech, are they the truth? Are you practicing Satya? Reflect on your communication. Are you communicating lovingly or angrily? Do you listen to others, or do you only want to talk?
This inquiry applies to our relationship with our own self as well. What are your beliefs and attitudes about who you are, and what you’re capable of? Do these attitudes support or hinder you? Do these thoughts affect how you behave towards others? How do you treat your body? Are you loving and compassionate towards your body and yourself? There are a myriad of questions that one could explore through the practice of Svadhyaya.
Whether you are on or off your yoga mat, you can incorporate Svadhyaya into your daily life. For example, take the time to focus your attention on your inhalations and exhalations. Observe how the experience of breathing affects you in the moment. Notice the thoughts, emotions, and sensations.
Through all of this, may we all be better yogis and a happier human being 🙂