You may come to yoga classes to build fitness, strength and flexibility; which of course you will over time; however, through these practices, right from the off, we are engaging in the act of Swadhyaya. We flow through postures using breath and movement, building concentration… we scan the body, we bring our awareness to our breath, we still the mind…all these are practices of self-reflection. And by doing this, we get to know ourselves more honestly and see ourselves for what we are, not who we think we are.
Swadhyaya is the 3rd nyama (code for living) and the generally accepted interpretation of this is ‘the practice of self-study and self-analysis’. Sva is interpreted as ‘self’ and adhyaya means ‘investigation or inquiry’. Our path along life as a yogi is to self-inquire through our daily and weekly practices such asana, pranayama and meditation.
(Often with Sanskrit, there are more than a single interpretation, some Sanskrit scholars interpret swadhyaya as the study of sacred texts. According to Patanjali, in order to attain a greater understanding of one’s true being, the study of scriptures is important. The scriptures are used to assist one in engaging in life through self-reflection.)
I feel that, although Patanjali’s Sutras were written thousands of years ago (and were passed on orally for thousands of years before that) they are just as important – if not more so – to us today. We can often go through life without stopping for a moment to look within ourselves, study our values, observe our actions and truly see the impact we have on others by our thoughts, words and deeds. The yogi is encouraged to engage in self-reflection by analysing all of these things.
So how well do you practice Swadhyaya in your life?
Take a moment now… reflect on your breath. Is it fast or slow? Is it deep or shallow? Are you allowing your diaphragm to move fully? What was the breath or pranayama practice that you did in your last class – can you remember? Practice this now and then remain seated for a while to see the effect it has upon your breath.
“Study, when it is developed to the highest degree, brings one close to higher forces that promote understanding of the most complex.” -The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, 11.44