Svadhyaya – Self Study
“SVADHYAYAD ISTADEVATA SAMPRAYOGAH.”
By study of spiritual books comes communion with one’s chosen deity
The fourth Niyama is Svadhyaya, Sva – meaning Self and Dhyaya – meaning contemplating , meditating or reflecting upon. therefore it is translated into English as Self Study.
There are many ways in which we can do self study but first we must become clear on the meaning of the “self”, itself. In the case of Svadhyaya, the self is not our personal identity (our ego) in which we have our own individual likes and dislikes, job titles, mother, father etc, the “self” in which Svadhyaya is referring to is our true self.
In Yoga the true self is often described as the ocean. Each wave in the sea is individual and unique in itself but it is still the sea, and it can not be separated from the sea. If at any time that the wave becomes aware of it’s watery substance then it begins to see it’s true self and that its part of something much bigger. This is what Svadhyaya is trying to achieve, the understanding of our true selves.
“The premise of svadhyaya is similar. Like the waves of the sea, it is said that individual awareness is never separate from the infinite consciousness in which it has its being. Individual minds have distinctive qualities, preferences, and colorings, but they are not entirely autonomous. Each mind is a wave in a vast expanse of consciousness.”
Rolf Sovik (Yoga International)
WAYS TO PRACTICE SVADHYAYA
The Yoga Sutra’s of Patanjai suggests reading spiritual books to help us understand the true self. They don’t have to be strictly ancient yogic texts, it can be anything that lifts you up and deepens your understanding. You can listen to talks/lectures, audiobooks, read articles, poems, even little snippets or quotes that get you thinking.
Daily meditation – particularly repetition of a mantra. Silent repetition of a mantra, anchors the mind to one thought and allows all the other chitta vritti (fluctuations of the mind or mind chatter) to be silenced. Some traditional texts recommend silently repeating the mantra “OM” (believed to be the vibration of the universe) or to silently chant Soham “So” on the inhale and “Hum” on the exhale, meaning “I am that, that is me”.
PRACTICING SVADHYAYA IN ASANA
Moving mindfully is one of the best ways to practice self study on the mat. Being aware of each part of the body as you move. Aware of each breath as it arises. Notice how the body responds when it is aligned in a certain way, observe any physical sensations that arises from that alignment. Observe how the mind reacts to the shapes you are putting the body in. Be aware of any emotions that might arise during the practice. When you start to pay this amount of attention in each and every pose and in each and every moment as it arises, the mind begins to empty of all the noise and starts to gain clarity.
Noticing the sensations, any discomfort or pain that arises doing a practice is a very good teacher of Svadhyaya. Through self study you are better able to determine whether that sensation is “bad” that may cause injury, in which case you will change your alignment or take rest. If the sensation is “good”, it feels mild, moderate or manageable, you can stay with it and notice the sensation how it shifts, moves or changes as you remain in the pose, connected with the breath.
When you’re faced with a challenging pose, notice how you react to that challenge. Do you turn away from it and avoid it or do you bull dose ahead and force the body into the shape when it’s not ready even when you struggle to breathe. Or do you look at the challenge and see what parts of the pose can you do. Do you find ways to make the pose easier and more accessible, in other words do you make adjustments or use a block or a strap that will help you move closer towards the shape of the pose reducing the risk of injuring yourself while still moving you forward.
How we practice challenging poses on the mat is often a reflection of how we deal with stress off the mat, therefore the practice of Svadhyaya in asana is a valuable tool to notice our immediate reactions and as we begin to become more and more aware of how we react to difficult situations we can then learn to respond differently and remind ourselves to check in with the breath to calm the inner turmoil and then find a solution .
SVADHYAYA IN ACTION
Baddha Trikonasana – Bound Triangle Pose
Baddha – Bound
Trikon – Triangle
Asana – Pose
Baddha Trikonasana (Bound Triangle Pose) is a challenging but accessible pose that requires patience and self awareness to move into it safely. Pausing and moving with the breath allows the body and mind to quieten as the sensations in the body may intensify. Practicing Svadhyaya encourages us to move mindfully deeper into the pose and notice when we’ve gone deep enough to receive the benefits without pushing too far.
MENTAL AND EMOTIONAL BENEFITS
Unblocks energy pathways in the body
Opens chest and shoulders
Strengthens and stretches the legs, particularly the hamstrings
Lengthens the spine and side body
Increases flexibility in hips and spine
Relieves upper-back tension
Stimulates the abdominal organs
CAUTIONS AND CONTRAINDICATIONS
Avoid this pose if you have diarrhea or low blood pressure.
High Blood Pressure, look down instead of up
Neck issues – look down instead of up
Heart Condition – do against a wall
HINTS AND TIPS
Get comfortable with practicing Trikonasana and Ardha Baddha Trikonasana (half bound triangle) before attempting the full bind.
I like to bend my front knee and snuggle my shoulder down to the inside of the knee, once I’ve created the bind then I work on re-straightening the front leg.
Keep the legs active by pressing the feet down and drawing the muscles around the knees up