Svadhyaya means self study and reflection in Sanskrit and is the fourth Niyama of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. Simply put, Svadhyaya is process of getting to know your psychic, emotional, and soul interior, in order to get in touch with your deeper Self. It represents our search for meaning.
When we get to know our small Self – which could include our personality, our ego, and our identity – we learn the many habits, behaviors, and ways of relating to the world that have been conditioned by our experiences. In order to transform, we need to get really intimate with these habits, behaviors, and perceptions so that we can identify where they’re ultimately not serving us. This awareness can bring great change and progress, while also getting us in touch with our larger Soul Self, the Self that knows what’s best for our evolution.
Yoga asana practice will allow you to discover areas of tension and stress within your body, especially in your shoulders and hips, which you may not have even realize accumulated along your daily life. These areas of tension in your physical body often reveal some key fears and disturbances residing your inner world. Through mindful asana practice, we can study and understand our physical and mental limits by observing how we tend to react to easy or difficult situations. However, asana practice is only the tip of the iceberg. There are many ways we can practice Svadhaya on and off the mat.
Svadhyaya Yoga Practice
You can incorporate svadhyaya (self-study) into your yoga practice with an asana, mantra, and mudra to help bring into focus the subtle and not-so-subtle ways this niyama plays out in your life.
To incorporate svadhyaya into your own life and practice, we can practice with the asana, mudra (hand-and-finger gesture), and mantra (a sacred utterance repeated continuously) below:
Asana: Padmasana (Lotus Pose)
Come to a comfortable seated pose with the tops of the feet resting on opposite thighs. Sit on a block, blanket, or bolster for additional support.
Mudra: Dhyana Mudra
Mantra: Tat tvam asi
Gaze at the triangle while chanting Tat tvam asi, which can be translated as “You are what you seek.” This meditative pose, mudra, and mantra allow you to observe, without judgment, the thoughts, desires, habits, cravings, and repetitive behaviors that cause you to disconnect from the Self. This wisdom is what ultimately illuminates our shadows and sets us free from the bonds of self-judgment.
Hold the lotus pose, with its mudra, for 3–5 breaths, mindfully chanting, aloud or internally, its accompanying mantra.
Svadhyaya in everyday life
Svadhyaya in the sense of studying our selves in daily life though, requires us to really take our yoga practice off the mat. Knowing what we’re doing in each moment requires us to pay attention, but asking the question “why am I doing this?” requires us to be aware and fully present, which is ‘paying attention’ on a whole other level. This comes down to recognising our habits, and discerning between the ones which come largely from an ego-based place, and which ones are the result of listening to our true Self.
The practice of taking a proverbial step back and observing and questioning our actions can eventually allow us to disentangle ourselves from those aspects of our lives that are harmful towards our wellbeing. As with anything worth doing, it isn’t easy, but it’s well worth the effort and dedication.
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