Watch your thoughts, they become words;
watch your words, they become actions;
watch your actions, they become habits;
watch your habits, they become character;
watch your character, for it becomes your destiny.
– Author Unknown
In the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali presents the practitioner with another area to focus our efforts, Self-study, or svadhyaya. The word itself is made up of Sva, meaning own, self, or the human soul, and Adhyaya, meaning lesson, study of, or reading. Interpreting svadhyaya as ‘one’s own reading’ or study of our own self implies an introspective look at our thoughts and behaviors.
Yogic texts use the word self to denote our individual self in the physical form, and our ego, which generates who we consider ourselves to be on a daily basis. When we operate from this place governed by the small ‘self’ we often do things that don’t fully align with our highest ideals and who we know our true Self to be. Our ego is primarily concerned with survival and proving itself as superior, which usually entails getting what it wants in all situations despite what consequences that might have for us. The small ‘self’ judges, criticises, fears, places conditions, doubts and is essentially the cause of the chitta vrittis, or ‘fluctuations of the mind’. Whereas Self, with the capital S, refers to the true self, the atman, the divine within us. By paying attention to, or ‘studying’ our ‘self’, we become more aware of the things we do that cause harm to us and others, and also those which serve us and bring us closer to that process of ‘yoking’ or ‘uniting’ with the true Self.
Additionally, svadhyaya includes a deeper study of yoga scriptures, when reflected upon giving us further insight into ourselves. If we apply the practice of svadhyaha to our modern-day lives and the situations we’re in right now, ‘studying of the scriptures’ does not strictly have to mean sitting down with a huge copy of The Upanishads or chanting The Vedas; it might mean finding a book, an article, or a poem, any piece of writing that deepens your own yoga practice.
We invite you to join us in bringing more awareness to the practice of svadhyaya this month (and beyond). Here are a few ways to get started:
— Become more reflective during your time on the mat. Observe your thoughts and responses to the poses and pranayamas that you’re practicing.
— Notice where you hold tension. Ask yourself why this tension might be present, and how often does it arise during your practice? This may provide insight to unconscious ways that you are moving in your life.
— Spend some quiet time reflecting. If our yoga practice is the only time we slow down, then quite often we experience an overwhelming mind unload which distracts us from truly being present to what is happening in that moment. Foster down time outside of the yoga classroom to organize your thoughts and release the excess.
— Temper your reactions in favor of conscious responses.
— Read about yoga – whether it’s ‘studying’ a traditional text, or a more modern article. Then meditate upon how it resonates with you, whether it bears any resemblance to our own experiences, and therefore can apply to your our own life.
— Use this mantra: Tat tvam asi, which can be translated as “You are what you seek.” This mantra allows 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.
Svadhyaya is the continuation of our path to spiritual growth. The study of our innermost Self is a key aspect of yoga’s wholistic approach. When we realize that the outside world can take us no further toward true Self-discovery, our awareness turns inward where the real journey begins. Careful Self-study assists us in not becoming sidetracked or stagnant with what has already been discovered. Svadhyaya comes down to recognizing our habits, and discerning between the ones that come mostly from an ego-based place, and which ones are the result of listening to our true Self. This level of self-inquiry is courageous and ultimately empowering. The willingness and presence to ask “why am I doing this?” requires us to be aware and fully present, clearing the path toward our own liberation.