Svadhyaya, the “Study of the Self”

In this article we cover:

  • An Introduction to the Eight Limbs of Yoga
  • A Svadhyaya Breakdown
  • Incorporating Svadhyaya Into Your Daily Routine
  • Svadhyaya Practices

Published March 31, 2022

svadhyaya-in-yoga

Svadhyaya (pronounced svahd-YAH-yah,) not only sounds beautiful when heard or spoken, but its great meaning makes it a favorite yogic text term in the modern yoga community. When woven into one’s everyday routine, this sacred self-study practice chisels the spirit out of stone. This is even more the case when you come to learn about its deep implementations and riches.

svadhyaya-sanskrit-text

An Introduction to the Eight Limbs of Yoga

In order to understand the purpose of svadhyaya, it’s important to look at where this concept came from. Svadhyaya was first mentioned in the ancient Vedas, Upanishads, and the Bhagavad Gita texts. However, the terms really became underscored in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, written between 200 and 400 CE.

The Yoga Sutras are a compilation of 196 aphorisms, or sutras, which carved the form of yoga practiced today. Sutras, meaning “threads,” are rituals, philosophies, and pieces of knowledge the sage Patanjali encourages we weave into our lives.

Within the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali teachings lies ashtanga yoga. Ashtanga is an eight-limbed path yogi’s take to achieve a state of bliss, known as samadhi. The eight-limbed path is:

    • Limb One – Yama (ethical restraints)
      • Ahimsa (non-harming, not causing pain)
      • Satya (truth)
      • Asteya (non-stealing)
      • Brahmacharya (right use of energy, non-excess)
      • Aparigraha (non-attachment)
    • Limb Two – Niyama (self-observances)
      • Saucha (purity of the mind and body)
      • Santosha (contentment, acceptance)
      • Tapas (self-discipline, forging of character)
      • Svadhyaya (self-study)*
      • Ishvara Pranidhana (surrender to a higher power)
    • Limb Three – Asana (postures and practice of physical yoga)
    • Limb Four – Pranayama (breathing techniques)
    • Limb Five – Pratyahara (withdrawal of senses)
    • Limb Six – Dharana (focus)
    • Limb Seven – Dhyana (extended focus/meditation)
    • Limb Eight – Samadhi (absorption or bliss)
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Each limb has incredible depth and an entire article could easily be written on each to color them in fully. That said, we’ll keep our focus on svadhyaya, belonging to the second limb.

svadhyaya-meditation

A Svadhyaya Breakdown

“Study thy self, discover the divine.” — Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra, II.44

Svadhyaya translates loosely to “the study of the self.” Through this niyama, the yogic philosophy has several interpretations and takes on many forms. Svadhyaya can be the repetition of mantras during meditation. It can be moments of self-reflection, or the conscious contemplation of one’s behavior and motives. It can also be the absorption of knowledge to further one’s soul towards the final limb, a samadhi state.

We are all students of life, for life, and should take our studies seriously. That said, what svadhyaya means to you may vary from what it means to the yogi beside you in class. Incorporating svadhyaya into our daily routine is a personal and private endeavor. This sacred practice leads us the way back to our truest selves. Studying the self should take on whatever form you prefer.

Mirror-of-non-distortion

Incorporating Svadhyaya Into Your Daily Routine

As previously mentioned, there are ways to go about the fourth niyama branch, svadhyaya. A great way to think of svadhyaya is as if you’re looking into a mirror of non-distortion. By looking at the self through this non-distorting mirror, we can observe our reality, our moods, and our behaviors. We can take in our environment and consider our circumstances. An assessment of our lives and in which direction we are going in reflects back to us. With this information, we may decide that we’re on the right path. Or, we may conclude that we need to make course corrections to better fulfill our truest self.

During this process, it’s important to cultivate an element of curiosity, courage, non-judgment, and greater awareness. With these traits operating healthily, we can get more intimate with the truth. We’re able to see beneath the surface of our perceptions and how we relate to ourselves and the world.

We can decide if we are serving our highest self through our words and actions. Conversely, we can admit in what ways we could take a better approach. Self-study is an ongoing process. There is no “end-point,” no destination to reach.

“May I never reach the point where I think I am done.” — Meggan Waterson

Self-study can also occur at any time during the day. Whether you’re meditating or holding a yoga asana. Or when you’re doing the dishes, walking your dog, or driving to work. Self-study can be interwoven throughout your day, becoming a ritual that carves out your internal state.

There are also ways to strengthen your self-study practice. This involves the implementation of tried-and-true regimens that have been around for thousands of years. Look no further than the ancient yogic texts for the best, most effective svadhyaya practices.

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Svadhyaya Practices

  • Meditation

    • Self-knowing can come so profoundly through meditation. Through mind and body stillness, contemplation is enriched and self-study can take place. By turning off the outer world and distractions, we can turn the lights on to our inner world. We can also see what’s reflected in the mirror of non-distortion more clearly.
  • Study Ancient Yogic Texts

    • Svadhyaya was first mentioned in the Vedas, the Upanishads, and the Bhagavad Gita. Thus, it would only make sense for a self-study practitioner to read and contemplate these sacred texts. Modern spiritual literature is just as effective. However, ancient texts have stood the test of time so greatly because they touch on such universal wisdom. In many ways, they exist solely to lead the human spirit back to who we truly are.
  • Journal

    • Spiritually enriching texts always integrate more deeply into our being when we allow their lessons and insights to marinate. A great way to allow these teachings to soak into our life fiber is through a journaling ritual. In the privacy of blank pages that belong to our eyes only, we can penetrate the deepest truths. We can reflect on, examine, and integrate our living experience in a place that we trust.
  • Practice Yoga

    • The depths of knowledge that come from the yoga mat have a way of effecting our lives. Even when we step off the mat and into our daily routines. While holding asanas, we learn so much about ourselves. How we react to discomfort. To our physical “edge.” How we respond when our practice asks us to push past our boundaries and self-limiting beliefs. Practicing yoga daily, or weekly, is a great way to get in touch with our higher self.

      “Yoga is the journey of the self, through the self, to the Self.” — The Bhagavad Gita
yoga-mat-and-meditation

Discover The Divine That Exists Within

While these modalities have proven to instill self-study naturally, self-study can take place during the most mundane of times. Enjoying an evening meal, folding laundry, or sitting on your back porch, the opportunity for self-study is ever present. We hope svadhyaya finds a place of belonging in your daily routine. Svadhyaya, over time, will lead you to discover the divine that exists within you. A divinity that exists within us all, patiently waiting to be tapped into.