This month's theme is "Svadhyaya" (self-study) the fourth niyama in the yoga sutras, and a practice which will help us to take our yoga beyond the mat and in to our lives.
Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra says: "Study thy self, discover the divine" II.44
Along with tapas (discipline, which we observed last month) and Ishvara pranidhana (devotion, which we will observe in December), svadhyaya (self-study) is part of the threefold practice of kriya yoga.
"Kriya yoga consists of three components: tapas, svadhyaya, and Ishvara pranidhana. Tapas helps us assess our physical capacity; svadhyaya, our mental ability and intellectual grasp. Ishvara pranidhana allows us to see the depth of our emotional maturity. Together these three help us see our strengths and weaknesses, and, with proper guidance, help us design a course of practice that is perfect for our overall growth and development." Pandit Rajmani Tigunait
The translation of Svadhyaya can be broken down into "Sva" meaning own, self, or the human soul, and "Adhyaya", meaning lesson, lecture, or reading, and so Svadhyaya can encompass the study of spiritual and consciousness raising scriptures, which have liberation of the Soul at the heart, as well as the study of Self, through observation, reflection and meditation.
I should note that Self with a capital "S" denotes the human soul, the Atman, the higher Self- where as small "s" self refers to the physical body and ego; our everyday self.
Self-study should never be undertaken alone, otherwise we risk becoming tangled in a psychically incestuous ordeal, where the small self gets in the way and we fail to really see who we are. We need teachers, trusted friends, wise associates and trusted therapists (who are also on the path of raising their consciousness) as well as the guidance of spiritual texts to provide the mirror to our true Self.
Study of Spiritual texts help us to stay on the path of the soul's liberation, to make sure that our self-reflection is able to produce growth, expansion and positive change in our lives. To self-study alone, without the guidance of sacred texts, holy teachers and the company of others on the same path (satsang) risks us getting tripped up in our habitual ways; we must anchor self-study in the scriptures we chose as our guiding light to lead our Soul to liberation (whether that is Vedic texts, Buddhist teachings, the Bible or the Quran).
The role of confession in Catholic faith is a practice of Svadhyaya; reflecting on behaviour and asking for forgiveness. Similarly, repentance and asking for forgiveness is also reflected in Islamic and Jewish faiths. When we turn away from our worldly life for a moment and reconnect with our spiritual life, we re-calibrate our inner compass back to the values and intentions of our true Self.
We can also look at self-study in the context of our relationships with, well... everyone! Examine: How do we feel/ react when someone disagrees with you, lies to you, betrays you? Observe how do you feel/ react when someone achieves or receives something that you have longed for yourself? Can you take the core teachings of your spiritual practice (kindness, compassion, truth, - all fairly universal teachings) and apply them to how you respond in the moment with others?
In class this month we will ground our practice in texts that lead the soul to liberation as well as studying our habits on the yoga mat such as where the mind wanders off to, and how we 'talk' to ourselves as we practice. This can be very revealing of our habits and tendencies off the mat too because the way in which we practice yoga is often reflective of the way we live our life.
The inner critic which may show up in our yoga practice from time to time, and it has a role, for sure. The inner critic is a powerful inner tool to kill our ego, but it can also tempt us into spiralling thoughts which create ripples in the mind-space and distract us from the practice at hand. When the critic shows up, thank it for its commentary and realign the mind with devotion to the practice, and to your higher self/ highest goal.
I want to leave you with the wisdom of Donna Farhi, who reminds us:
"Svadhyaya means staying with our process through thick and thin because it's usually when the going gets rough that we have the greatest opportunity to learn about ourselves"
See you on the Mat!
SAVE THE DATE: Monday 11th December for our End of Year Yoga Class and Satsang at Waverton Hall, with my beloved teacher and dear friend Katie Manitsas. My first class with Katie was 17 years ago, I was just 18 at the time. It was at her Newtown Studio- Samadhi Yoga. Since then Katie has been my birth doula and we have collaborated on a number of workshops and events. Katie brings the Bhava- she's a devoted practitioner with the highest certification of yoga teachers available in Australia, with lineage in Jivamukti Yoga (her teachers are Sharon Gannon and David Life) Wise Earth Ayurveda (her teacher Maya Tiwari). She is also a doula, animal rights activist, writer and mother of four.