A Joyful Journey Inward
Swadhyaya is one of my favorite topics in yoga! It has helped me gain perspective on my life and learn to be more me. I find that I am an endless subject of study that never ceases to amaze me in how complicated I can be. And you are just like that. Studying yourself is a valuable tool to let you feel your wholeness and become more and more like the real you!
Swadhyaya (pronounced: swad – ya – ya), is the study of the Self. It is the 4th Niyama principle. The niyamas are from the 8-limbed path of yoga and are five ways in which we interact with ourselves. “Swadh” means “the self” and “yaya” means “knowledge”. It is a way in which we begin to learn about ourselves and what keeps us from our ultimate truth – that we are the pure light within. Each aspect of our yoga practice, from the physical, emotional, mental and spiritual, can help us to get to know ourselves better and better. Essentially, this is the practice that allows us to let our authentic selves shine brightly and more continuously. Because at its core, yoga is a constant evolution toward yourself. It allows your light to shine through.
Let’s look at swadhyaya from a perspective we are all familiar with – our physical asana practice. In our physical practice we can look at ourselves in each pose and learn something. The poses (asana) can help reveal areas that need more focus and attention (“oooh I’m tight here” or “I feel strong here”). They show us the areas that are blocked and where we can release the tension we so often carry with us. We can also embody the energy of the pose and learn how we can take the lessons of the postures off the mat into the other 23 hours of our day. Here are some examples of what can be revealed through the asana:
- Backbends might uncover a fear of opening our hearts.
- Inversions or arm balances can expose confidence or a fear of failure.
- Twists offer us the opportunity to have a more well-rounded view of the world.
- Standing balance postures will let you know if you are too serious, are scattered or can enjoy the play of finding center.
What do you learn about yourself when you are on your mat? What part of your story supports you on your path of wellness, health, and perhaps spirituality? What parts hinder you and hold you back from being more true to yourself?
Let’s look at swadhyaya from the perspective of our mind and emotions. Our beliefs, what we identify as, and our patterns are conditions that we have put upon ourselves. They surround and dim that beautiful, pure light within. We believe ourselves to be those things and thus, limit ourselves. We are not our stories, we just identify very strongly with them.
Swadhayaya is our way of looking at those beliefs, patterns and traits from a place of neutral observation that gives us a little separation from those things. We start to see them for what they are – a program. The programs we developed starting at an early age through today served their purpose for a time. Thank them for that! But, if you can see that you have outgrown a pattern, belief or some identifying factor it is time to let it go. The more we let go the more we shine and act from our authenticity.
Getting to know the parts of you that are labeled as your shadow side (the parts of you that you don’t love so much) can help you cut through the bondage and limitations they create. Set yourself free from the things that bind you and hold you back. Let yourself live more fully in this world today with all of its fullness and richness. Your true self is free. The bondage and limitations we feel are within our own bodies and minds. Getting to know yourself more fully – looking at all parts of you – helps you connect with the purity, love and joy that you truly are.
Swadhyaya asks us to remember the first principle from the 8-limbed path of yoga, that of ahimsa or kindness. Sometimes when we start to look within and even study ourselves we can be overly critical and hard on ourselves. This hinders the process of inner growth. So instead, send yourself loving kindness on this journey inward. Getting to know yourself is a joyful journey. It can be challenging and even scary at times. But, have courage to know who you really are. And don’t forget to smile along the way! You are worth it!
Maitri Yoga’s Founder