Svadhyaya – The Fourth Niyama
Posted by terrepruitt on March 21, 2016
I’m still looking into the Eight Limbs of Yoga (1: The yamas – restrictions/restraints/ethical principles 2: The niyamas – rules/observances/spiritual practices 3: The asana – the poses 4: Pranayama – breath work 5: Pratyahara – withdrawal of the senses 6: Dharana – concentration 7: Dhyana – meditation and 8: Samadhi – transcendence) I am working my way down the list posting about a little bit about each limb. With the first two limbs there are five of each yama and niyama. I am working my way through them, too. Well, this post is about the fourth niyama or rule, observance, spiritual practice. It is svadhyaya – study of self.
T.K.V. Desikachar’s The Heart of Yoga states that svadhyaya means to get close to yourself or study yourself. Sva = “self” or “belonging to me” / Adhyaya = “inquiry” or “examination” . . . so self inquiry, self examination.
One can study or examine oneself for various reasons. One way many are probably familiar with is eating . . . you have probably heard the terms “emotional eater”, “stress eater”, “bored eater” and the idea is to stop and think – examine when you eat so you can identify if you are one of these types of eaters. These labels could be applied to many things . . . drinker . . . fighter . . . .abuser . . . “neglector” . . . cleaner . . . . smoker . . . whatever the situation, the study has to be done first in order for the behavior to be altered. WHY is it you are doing what you are doing? What is it that causes you to do what you do? With that type of knowledge of self then steps can be taken to change.
A lot of our behaviors are habits and sometimes just acknowledging that and applying a little bit of mindfulness we can change the habit.
If you want to think about svadhyaya in relationship to “on the mat”, the actual practice of the third limb of yoga, the asana, then it can be applied in the sense that it is all about you when you are on the mat. There is no competition between the person on the mat next to you. Or you having to do something in order to please or impress the teacher. It is all about you and what is going on with you at that particular mat time. This is a great time to practice svadhyaya. It is when you get to stop all the other thinking and think about things like how your foot is connected to the earth. It is your whole foot or just the edge? Are you using the muscles necessary to make certain that it is the whole foot. Are your shoulders down? Is your chest open? Is your spine long? Is your stance too wide? Can you tweak your arm/leg/head just a little in order to invite in that sense of relaxed control? Where you are not sinking into your joints hanging out in a pose, but using your muscles but not over using them? Are you aware of the placement of your knee? Are you focused on your breath? If you study how each pose is sensed by your body it allows you to try to determine if you are in the pose correctly and allows you to get the most out of it.
With the study of self there is knowledge gained about self. With the knowledge of self one can work to improve or enhance oneself. With enhancement of self, the idea is that one moves closer to the divine. Many think of the divine as different things. But most people agree that we all have areas in which we could grow. Most people agree there is always room for improvement. It makes sense that we have to look in and examine, practice svadhaya, before we can change. This is just one way – and a brief one at that – to look at svadhaya.
What do you think? Do you think of svadhaya on the mat?