Our Strength is our Svādhyāya

As yoga practitioners committed to extending our awareness beyond our exercise mats, a common question that may occur is: “how do I know my practice is bearing real fruit?”

A starting point is the observance of the third Niyama propounded by sage Patanjali: Svādhyāya (Devanagari: स्वाध्याय). In its simplest translation, Svādhyāya means “self-study”. Svādhyāya is a compound Sanskrit word that is formed by the root svā (स्वा) + dhyāya (ध्याय). Svā means “of self” while Dhyāya means “meditating on”. A second meaning also occurs if we consider breaking the word into Sva (self) and Ādhyaya (lesson), making it literally mean “one’s own reading or lesson”.

If we sit with this aphorism from the Patanjali Yoga Sutras though, an even deeper meaning emerges:

स्वाध्यायादिष्टदेवतासंप्रयोगः॥

Translation: “Study thy self, discover the divine.” Patanjali’s Yogasutra, 2:44.

What does it mean to “study thy self”? For me, studying myself is akin to reflecting on my own patterns of behaviour, thought, reaction and perception. These sometimes give me clues about my inner nature – when I am acting out of instinct (the “Id” in Freudian psychology) versus when I am acting out of a broader consciousness (the “super-ego” of Freudian theory).

Source: WordPress Media Library/ Common Creatives

I’ve heard a lot of people say that “man is just an animal” – to that, I say yes and no. Sure – our animal instincts are similar to so many of the species, specially our primate ancestors. Like them, we value connection and community. We also preface food and sleep over all other considerations. This is our “natural nature”, and it binds us with all living beings. Yet I also believe that humans have the potentiality to embrace higher dimensions of our being too – like envisioning a better future for the world, going beyond sectarian or filial ties. By turning our senses inwards (to introspect and understand the more rarified and divine qualities within our nature) and instead of satisfying base pleasures, using our life force for self-reflection and growth. There’s a reason why yogis say that our Buddhi or rationality needs to be “trained” in humans too, and how helpful it becomes once it is a discerning tool and not a compulsive master. (You can read more about the yogic classifications of mind in this previous post)

One way of gauging whether our practice is bearing fruit – is to see what kind of thoughts recur. What is our pattern of thinking? Have we learnt to truly ground ourselves in Baddha Konāsana? Does that mean that as we sit in the pose, we perhaps contemplate what it feels to connect to Mother Earth? Or does our pattern of thoughts skim the surface of how the pose feels in the body and nothing more? Employing an active practice of Svādhyāya in our time on the mat, and more importantly, daily life – is a beautiful way to find ourselves transforming in multiple dimensions through our yoga practice.

A few parting words: as you continue your yoga journey, I hope this idea of Svādhyāya being a deeper tool serves as a useful one for your self-reflections. If you’d like to show your support for my content, please share the link with a friend who might appreciate this too 🙂

with love and gratitude,

Damini Yogini

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