Many of us come to yoga through the physical doors—we want our bodies to be stronger and more flexible. After you develop a regular yoga practice, you may find that the physical practice is just the tip of the iceberg. Through the mind body connection, not only do our bodies change, but our minds become stronger and more flexible. Svadhyaya, or self reflection, is one of the guiding principles outlined in the yoga sutras. Self study is a yogic practice that transforms your physical practice from “working out” to “working in.” Through this practice, our actions become much more than a way to achieve something physical, like getting into the fullest expression of a pose. They become a mirror that we can use to learn to see ourselves more deeply. If we can be open-minded enough to examine our behaviors and coping strategies that we use to maintain our idea of self then we can break through the blockages that this self-image creates into the true nature of our essential self.
Svadhyaya is a way for you to gaze inward and learn about your true self. Accessing a self-study practice may look differently for each person—it could be developing a meditation practice, exploring inspirational, sacred texts or making discoveries through psychotherapy. The key is not to judge what you study and be truthful about what comes up. First we must try to understand ourselves, and through that understanding, change our attitudes and behaviors. You may find you have to let go of habits or blocks to allow yourself space and opportunity to gaze inward. Being more balanced in your life helps you to practice non-attachment of what truths surface so you can observe, understand, and release. Practice the previous niyamas during your self reflection. Be content (santosha) with whatever growth happens, even if the progress is slow and there are setbacks. Find discipline (tapas) and patience towards your growth so your study is productive. Stay present, non-judgmental and content with discoveries during svadhyaya. If you stay authentic and compassionate towards yourself and others you can keep moving forward and evolving.
Svadhyaya is an ongoing process that changes as we move through different stages of life. Sometimes we can get caught up in the day-to-day routine and find ourselves on autopilot. Acting habitually and being swept up into life’s momentum causes us to forget to check in with where we’re at or where we’re going. To stay present and aware through our self study, we can discover our higher potential. In classic yogic philosophy, svadhyaya techniques were mantras, sacred texts, and masters, all of which are still wonderful opportunities. For the modern day yogi, we can use our spouses, partners, friends, yoga teachers and fellow yoga students as a means to svadhyaya. Our relationships act as mirror for studying how people are responding to us. So whether you have solitary, social, or variable practices of svadhyaya, this deeper understanding can lead to discovering and refining our true and essential self.