Diving into the Niyamas: Svadhyaya

We can all get lost sometimes inside our own heads – our own thoughts – but how often do we use that time spent with our thoughts as an opportunity for self-reflection? Svadhyaya, another one of the five Niyamas, is the study of one’s self. The Niyamas are the second of yoga’s eight limbs, and in The Path of the Yoga Sutras, Nicolai Bachman describes a path of self-study by reading sacred texts, reciting mantras and self-observation.

Self-study can be uncomfortable. While it’s great to go back and reflect on the positives, such as seeing how far we’ve come or the things that we do well, to truly understand ourselves to work on the places where we can grow, self reflection is also a time to observe the things we say or think, or the way we react not so great to different events or situations. I understand that the first step to changing the way I react to stressful situations is to first observe the way I react to them now.

When I started thinking of Svadhyaya for this month’s post, what I kept thinking about was how I study or observe myself on my mat. It’s not when I’m practicing. For me, it happens in those quiet moments before class begins, when I’ve arrived early and am settled on my mat and letting the day slip away. I’ll try to still my mind before class, but most often I’m reflecting back on situations that occurred over the course of the day and how I responded. I might even think “oh, I wish I took a few minutes before responding.” Or maybe it might be thinking about how I reacted to someone else, and I’ll think back to the other ways I could have read that situation. As a part of Svadhyaya, I might want to explore how the event unfolded so that I can recognize those triggers in the future.

From time to time, I’ve also set an intention based upon this self-reflection or to assist with further study. The intention I can come back to over the course of an hour’s class, even though I may not revisit the full reasons or experiences behind the intention until later.

I’m also an avid reader, so of course I can get behind the idea of reading as a part of Svadhyaya! Philosophy and books that are sacred to the path that you follow can get one thinking about goals and values in life. But even, I would add from my experience, some fiction. Through fiction readers learn about different paths in life, and can become someone else for a those few moments she dives into the pages. I know in the past there have been characters that I thought were so strong, or other characteristics I wanted to develop further in me. I take that with me long after I’ve finished the book.

Self-study is not easy, but it is necessary to bring about a desired change to lead more of the kind of life one may want to live. While we can use self-study to look at the things we might wish to change, the reverse is also true. I do think it’s good to also look at the good things, the things that bring us joy and for which we are grateful. In this way, we can know what to seek out, who and what we can surround ourselves with. What kinds of things of bring you joy? What do you want to invite more of into your life?

This is the part of a series of posts for The Mat yoga studio, sharing my thoughts and observations as a student only. The views and opinions are my own.


Patricia returned to Texas after spending several years on both coasts. She's a writer, amateur photographer and traveler.

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