Introspective Yoga: Knowing Yourself and Svadhyaya

I am continuing with the Introspective Yoga series, so we are going to talk more yoga philosophy. If you want to read previous blogs from the series, start here.

Today we're looking at svadhyaya, or self-study. Svadhyaya can also refer to study of scriptures, if you pick up a text like the Yoga Sutras and try to understand yourself through it, that's also svadhyaya. This whole Introspective Yoga series is my way of practicing svadhyaya.

“Knowing others is intelligence; knowing yourself is true wisdom. Mastering others is strength; mastering yourself is true power.” ―Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching

One of the most powerful things you can do, is to know yourself. As in, deeply reflect on your true essence and harness its power.

Sometimes, it's easy to study ourselves. You think, I am (insert your name). You may identify with a few stories about you who are. You may decide your likes/dislikes. You may decide your relationships with people around you.

All those things are valid and so important. Examining them helps us live better.

You can easily practice svadhyaya by journaling. Here's why I like journaling:

  1. You can find clarity around what you already knew. Declaring how you really feel in words can feel so powerful, even if you already knew it. In this way, you can honor your own journey in life.
  2. You can shift the things that need to be shifted. Sometimes when we journal, our struggles show up. Then we look at them, and go, "Gee is this really how it's been?" If there's something that needs to be shifted, you can't deny it when it's right in front of you, in your own words and understanding.
  3. You can be creative. You can write down ideas and let them be free. And if it's something you really desire, you can work on manifesting it.

If you can know yourself, you can be unstoppable. I know for me personally, being self-aware and practicing svadhyaya has helped me to find the courage to live my best life. It's especially helpful for when I'm enduring the many trials and tribulations of human life: doubt, fear, anxiety, stress, overwhelm, betrayal, etc.

Here's a beautiful excerpt by B.K.S. Iyengar:

"Sva means self and adhyaya means study or education. Education is the drawing out of the best that is within a person. Svadhyaya, therefore, is the education of the self.

Svadhyaya is different from mere instruction like attending a lecture where the lecturer parades his own learning before the ignorance of his audience. When people meet for svadhyaya, the speaker and listener are of one mind and have mutual love and respect. There is no sermonising and one heart speaks to another. The ennobling thoughts that arise from svadhyaya are, so to speak, taken into one’s bloodstream so that they become a part of one’s life and being.

The person practising svadhyaya reads his own book of life, at the same time that he writes and revises it. There is a change in his outlook on life. He starts to realise that all creation is meant for bhakti (adoration) rather than for bhoga (enjoyment), that all creation is divine, that there is divinity within himself and that the energy which moves him is the same that moves the entire universe."

I love the part about how all creation is divine and the divinity within ourselves. On a deeper level, we are more than our names or our experiences or our relationships. In my opinion, it's in being able to recognize this that makes for a powerful svadhyaya.

Here's a question you can ask yourself when seeking svadhyaya: Can I strip away everything and be in my being?

Can you see beyond the mask of your namesake and upbringing? Can you see through the way others have influenced you? Can you sit and be with your Self ― the One that is connected to all that is?

Here's to studying ourselves.