This article is the fourth of a five part series based on this post: The Eight Limbs of Yoga (Part 2 – Niyama)
The fourth of the five Niyamas is Svadhyaya – a compound Sanskrit word literally translated sva, meaning “one’s own”, and adhyaya, “study”; therefore Svadhyaya would mean study of one’s self. Svadhyaya also is interpreted as studying the Vedas, Yoga Sutras and other scriptures, basically the source materials of yoga practice.
Self-study is very important for students and practitioners of Patanjali’s “classical” Yoga (Raja Yoga) and it would include reflection on sacred texts. Patanjali says of Svadhyaya: “From self-study and reflection on sacred words (svadhyaya), one attains contact, communion, or concert with that underlying natural reality or force.” (Yoga sutra 2.44 – svadhyayat ishta samprayogah).
Through deep inquiry into the self, comes an acknowledgment of the oneness of that self with all that is arises naturally. In other words, when practicing Svadhyaya our boundaries begin to melt and the illusion of separateness we feel from ourselves, those around us, and our world begins to dissolve. To practice Svadhyaya is to find the Divine appearing in us (and as us) at this very moment.
Yogis throughout the ages have practiced Svadhyaya by asking the simple question, “Who am I.” Sri Ramana Maharishi often spoke of self-enquiry as the “direct path” meaning it was the fastest path to moksha (liberation from Maya [illusion] and samskara [the cycle of death and rebirth] including all of the suffering and limitation of worldly existence).
Svadhyaya is purposefully preceded by Tapas (fiery discipline) because it takes an enormous amount of discipline to move beyond the material world that defines, binds and shrouds us in Maya (ignorance). In the practice of Svadhyaya, prayers, mantras, japa, meditation, purposeful intent and other devotional practices, including ancient yogic methods are used to strip away the ego and unveil truth, layer by layer. In the study of one’s self, the student becomes the witness of their thoughts, emotions, actions and life. During this witnessing process the distance between the real and unreal is unveiled. The incessantly chattering mind, unsettled emotions and physical limitations of the body are no longer seen as the “Self”, but instead are viewed as an experience of Self. In this recognition and realization of Truth, the practice of Svadhyaya brings a resounding peace.
In yoga practice, Svadhyaya has most traditionally been concerned with the study of various scriptures. But in truth, any practice that brings us to the point of recognizing our interconnection with all that is, is Svadhyaya. Svadhyaya could be studying Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, practicing asana, chanting, or even reading this blog.
In the study of Svadhyaya, as with all of our sadhanas, there is a natural, organic movement towards becoming more and more present. Along with this movement, there is an automatic falling away of fear. A sense of peace emerges along with the knowledge that love (presence) permeates all that is and ever was. Through the recognition of our inherent goodness and divinity, we realize that everything occurs for both the good of the individual and the good whole. In this state there are no random events, in fact, it would appear as if from your very first breath you were meant to find that you are loved far more than you could ever possibly imagine.
Final thoughts: Incorporating the practice of Svadhyaya into your everyday life is an effective way to experience life more fully. It’s about getting to know yourself better. And as we begin to truly understand who we are, we identify with the connectedness (union) that yoga is really all about.
The next article will continue this series with: The Five Niyamas (Part 5 – Ishvara Pranidhana)