The month of September is synonymous with “Back to School” – A new energy, a fresh start, and a commitment to new learning.
It is the perfect time for us to revisit the 4th Niyama – Svadhyaya, or “Self Study” (Sva = Self , Adhyaya = lesson, reading, or lesson).
Svadhyaya is really at the essence of all we do in Yoga. As the Bhagavad Gita states, “Yoga is the journey of the self, through the self, to the Self”. It is that final capital S Self, the more elusive and less ego-driven place within each of us, (often referred to as our Divine Self or “Atman”) that we are ultimately looking to connect to through all the practices of Yoga.
Yoga Asana is one excellent way to practice Svadhyaya. As we observe our behaviors, thoughts, and actions on the mat, we can begin to see and connect to, that peaceful and loving Self within.
How we are on the mat is often how we are in life, and Asana practice provides the time and space to examine ourselves with far fewer distractions (no phones! just our bodies, breath, and minds)
Do we push, grip, or force to achieve a pose? Do we avoid ever approaching our edge ? What is our breath doing, and are we listening to how it changes and adjusting our practice accordingly? Are we able to slow or still the mind and witness our thoughts, or do we get caught up in the drama of our “mind-stuff” during Savasana?
While paying attention to our behaviors, thoughts, and actions (both on the mat and off!) is an important component to beginning to understand our true nature, an eventual connection to our deeper consciousness cannot be discovered solely through self-observation. The practice of Svadhyaya also relies on spiritual study – traditionally sacred mantras and texts such as the Bhagavad Gita, or the Yoga Sutras – as additional means to find deeper insight into the human condition. Studying these ancient texts can be profoundly mind-opening and perspective altering even in our modern world – perhaps proof that while the circumstances have changed substantially, humanity has not changed so drastically over the ages. (Last week at ” Iyengar Yoga Camp” a couple of us spent a full week exploring just a handful of the sutras and having rich, mind-bending discussion)
And while the traditional texts are profound, any inspirational books, poems, writing, or art that examines what it is to be human can serve as a mirror which helps to reflects back to us our true nature. As we dive into this month of learning and growing, Svadhyaya is a beautiful way to deepen your self-awareness and self-knowledge as a means of finding greater connection.