By Jennifer Kelleher
Each month at Ocean Bliss Yoga, we set a studio focus to help guide our yoga practice and life. This September, our theme is a Svadhyaya, or “self-study”– a Niyama (observance) from Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras text.
Patanjali’s Niyamas are recommended focuses for a healthy and spiritual existence. They are practices that directly affect our inner world, which in turn affects our outer world. Observing the Niyamas makes us more conscious and has a positive influence on the way we live, act, relate, and serve.
Svadhyaya is the fourth Niyama of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras and it translates to mean, ‘one’s own reading’, or, ‘self-study.’ When you break down the word, ‘Sva’ means ‘self’ or ‘human soul’ and ‘Adhyaya’ means ‘lesson’ or ‘reading.’
It is important to point out that yogic texts tend to distinguish two forms of the word ‘self.’ ‘Self’ that begins with a capital ‘S’ refers to the true self, or the divine within us, whereas ‘self’ beginning with a lowercase ‘s’ refers to us in the physical form, our ego, or who we consider ourselves to be according to our labels and roles.
Practicing Svadhyaya entails studying the ‘self’ to become aware of our habits, actions, and thought processes so that we may discern whether they are a true reflection of who we really are at our core. In doing so, we start to notice the things we do that harm us versus those that enhance us.
Who guides you throughout your day? The ego is very concerned with survival, so its voice sounds like judgment, criticism, fear, and doubt. It has a lack mentality and is mostly interested in getting what it wants. When you pay attention, it is usually pretty easy to tell which ‘self’ is speaking to you during different situations. If you are confused, it can be helpful to pause and ask yourself, “Is this thought/action/habit loving?”
Some additional ways that you can practice Svadhyaya are:
- Reading inspirational yogic texts and applying the wisdoms in your life. It is one thing to read and have the knowledge in your head and it is something totally different when you convert that knowledge into lived experience; only then does it become your wisdom. I like to take a short passage or one concept, remember and reflect on it throughout my day, and notice ways in which it relates to my own life.
- Practice Svadhyaya on your yoga mat. How we are on our yoga mat tends to reveal a lot about how we are in life. Without all of life’s distractions (phones, family, chores, jobs, television, etc.), a lot is revealed. Instead of fearing what comes up, remember that the increased awareness is here to serve you. If you don’t recognize your “problems”, there is no way to make a beneficial change. Awareness allows us to work toward something better.
- Notice the nature of your breath. The breath tells us a lot about our state. For example, a choppy, shallow breath tends to signal that we are in a state of stress, whereas a slow, belly breath signifies a more calm and relaxed state.
- Do a body scan to determine where in your body you hold tension. Do this at different times throughout your day and yoga practice. Tension in the body is usually a sign of stored fear and worry. Once you are aware, you can soften these tense areas with breaths of loving presence.
- Notice your thoughts. How are you talking to yourself on a daily basis? The mind magnifies what it focuses on. If you don’t like your mind’s focus, you can work on shifting it. Meditation can be particularly helpful here.
As always, we invite you to join us at Ocean Bliss Yoga for daily classes and monthly specialty workshops. Check out our complete set of offerings at oceanblissyoga.net and call 917-318-1168 with any questions.