Svadhyaya (Pronounced – svahd-YAH-yah,) is a Sanskrit term that means self-study, self-reflection, or self-inquiry. It is one of the five Niyamas, or ethical guidelines, outlined in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. The Niyamas are the second limb of the eight limbs of yoga, which provide a framework for spiritual and personal growth. Through self-reflection and self-inquiry, you can gain a deeper understanding of your thoughts, emotions, and actions, as well as your relationship with the world around you.
“Though consciousness exists in the body, it needs to be tapped through
the practice of asana and pranayama, in which the intelligence acts as a
bridge to connect awareness of the body with the core and vice versa.
The connecting intelligence alone brings harmony of body, mind and soul, and intimacy with the Supreme Soul (Istadevata).”
B.K.S. Iyenger Svadhyaya Self Study
Yogas Chitta Vritti Nirodha
“Yoga is the cessation of fluctuation of the mind.”
Patanjali Sutra 1.2
Yoga offers us a path toward stilling the mind in order to move towards Self Realization.
Practicing Svadhyaya on the mat
Let’s put Svadhyaya to practice on the yoga mat. When you do a yoga pose, you follow instructions you have been given by your teacher on how to get into the pose and how to align all the body parts, feet, ankles, knees, hands, elbows, upper arms etc. This is the knowledge part of yoga practice. The power of practice comes when we observe our left side to the right side, where do we feel tensed, where do we need to extend, which part of our body we are not extending, what is the texture of our breath, etc., and reflect in the pose, that we learn to readjust our pose.
Try this, next time you step into your Adho Mukha Savasana (downward dog), add Svadhyaya into your practice, be present and observe your body, mind and breath and the dog pose might take you on a journey beyond the hamstrings into the unknown layers in your body.
“Asana practice is an opportunity to look at obstacles in practice and life and discover how we can cope with them.”
B.K.S. Iyengar – Light on life p. 51
As I practice svadhyaya more and more in my yoga practice, I see the changes in myself, and my practice has evolved through the years. The focus changes from getting the poses done to doing the asanas more intelligently and mindfully. I begin to observe more keenly what my body, mind and breath are doing. When I start observing myself more deeply, I can observe that my mind settles down, becomes present and calmer and my breath starts to change. I feel there is transformation happening every time I am on the mat. When the mind is still, focused and internalized in each asana, I can become aware of my emotions, stresses, worries, tensions that are stored in my body.
Our yoga practice allows us to penetrate deeper into our self to see where we might be holding past hurts and present tension. Our yoga practice reveals a lot about ourselves. In Each asana we can experience changes happening in the body. The experience can be positive or negative, through Svadhyaya (self-study) our practice can be calming and soothing. It can bring contentment to the way we see ourselves and the world around you.
“The person practicing svadhyaya reads his own book of life, at the same time that he writes and revises it.”
BKS Iyengar – Light on Yoga p. 38
The wisdom of balancing inspiration
The other side of svadhyaya is the study of inspiring wisdom. Teachers who have walked the path before us can help us see what’s true from a different angle. While self-study is essential in yoga practice, we need to read books, listen to philosophy talks, take classes and workshops from experienced yoga teachers—all these can help us widen our perspectives. Both self-study and study of sacred wisdom are necessary for a balanced understanding of ourselves. Self-study gives us a firsthand understanding of how our own bodies and minds work. Finding inspiration from outside ourselves stretches us to see our practices and our lives with fresh eyes. The self-study aspect of svadhyaya helps us apply the wisdom we absorb from elsewhere to our own lives. Developing wisdom is a lifelong process. I have found as my practice deepened, I needed to read to broaden and develop my yoga practice, Light on Yoga, Light on Patanjali Sutras, Light on Life, Bhagavat Gita are all the books that I began reading, for my Svadhyaya study.
Svadhyaya guides us into a well of learning that never ends. Our yoga practice equips us with the tools to handle such a never-ending well. Tools such as personal inquiry, asana practice, pranayama, and study of sacred texts are all vehicles of self-study.
The depths of knowledge that come from the practice have a way of affecting our lives, even when we step off the mat and into our daily routines. Practicing yoga daily, or weekly, is a great way to get in touch with our higher self.