Niyama: Svadhyaya – study of self

Svadhyaya means, literally, “to recollect (to remember, to contemplate, to meditate on) the Self.” It is the effort to know the Self that shines from the innermost core of your being. Svadhyaya also means to study yourself. Take an honest look reflecting on how your thoughts, actions, and words impact your life, your practice, and you. This niyama asks you to pay attention to what you are doing, how you are doing it, and why you are doing it. Svadhyaya challenges us to be honest with ourselves.

This contemplative aspect of yoga transforms our asana practice into more than just physical exercise and “follow-the-leader.” Throughout our practice at home or in a class, we can pause and reflect on the physical sensations our body is experiencing and the thoughts that stream through our mind. This can help us make decisions as we set an intention and roll out our mats. We begin our practice and ask ourselves what our mind and body need and why. Before you begin, would it serve you better to do a flow or restorative practice? What style of meditation would serve you the best at this moment? Would a specific pranayama breath practice help balance your body? Reflecting on what you need helps answer the why and directs the how. Once we have reflected on our why (e.g., stress, energy, calming, pain-reducing, strengthening, etc.), we can move into how we practice. Your intention may be an invitation to move at 75% and be gentle to your body. It may be to energize and invigorate by adding inversions, backbends, and standing postures. Staying curious and aware to what your needs are in that present moment helps you create a practice that is nourishing and balancing to your mind, body, and spirit.

In addition to our yoga practice, we can apply Svadhyaya off of the mat as well. Taking time to pause, reflect, and study the effects of our actions (or lack of action) can help us move forward.

Collectively as a nation, we are moving through so much grief and loss. Some schools are starting the new school year online, some have a hybrid approach and some are in-person. We have entered a very polarizing presidential campaign season. Our environment is hurting and many people all over the world are managing the effects of fires, hurricanes, drought, and other natural disasters. Racial injustice, mental health, and the list keeps going on and on. One action alone does not solve the many issues we are facing. It leaves us feeling overwhelmed and sometimes paralyzed So many of us have said, “I am done with 2020.” Yes. I am too. But what can we really do to help ourselves and our country move forward? How do we get out of this feeling of being overwhelmed and unsettled?

I do not have the answers. But I have started to understand how important it is to practice self-care; it’s needed now more than ever.

The teachings of yoga can be a place to start. Svadhyaya invites us to study what is happening. We are being challenged as humans and as a nation to pause, listen, and see what is truly happening so we can understand and move forward with clear intention. This self-study begins with each of us in our hearts and minds, with our actions and words.

For example, I am giving myself a little more grace and asking for help. I listen to my body every morning and make a decision to sleep a little more because I am tired, or get up and spend some time in meditation and calm my mind before the day begins. I have done both and this self-reflection helps me know what I need; I try to give permission to do either without guilt or shame. Reflecting on my needs through self-study helps me say yes or no to these opportunities with resilience and grace.

TODAY I encourage you to take time for yourself and put on your “to-do” list tasks that bring joy, light, and love into your day. Maybe it is a walk in nature, a cup of tea and a good book, a nap, a call to a dear friend, a nutritious dinner with family, or anything else that helps you feel nourished and whole.

We could all use a little more grace and permission to pause – and listen.

Stay safe. Stay well. You are light. You are love.