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Exploring Yoga Philosophy: Svādhyāya

My yoga philosophy teacher in India used to tell us that we tend to wear coats: the student coat, the teacher coat, the daughter coat, the lover coat,... but deep down, at the centre of our being, we are consciousness; God (or any other name you prefer to use). The fourth Niyama: Svādhyāya - self-study or self-inquiry - is necessary for us to realise our identity as divine beings.

What are Niyamas?

As we saw in the article on the eight limbs of Yoga; in the traditional Yoga system the second aspect of practice is called niyama or inner observances, which helps us build character and guides us to live life in its fullest, most joyful form.

The five niyamas:

  1. Śauca - purity, cleansing

  2. Santosa - contentment

  3. Tapas - work, practice

  4. Svādhyāya - self-study, self-inquiry

  5. Ishvara Pranidhana - surrender the fruits of your actions

In order to release suffering we must realise that we are wearing "coats" (personalities) and the practice of svādhyāya is about recognising that behind our personality, there is an expansive, peaceful, unconditionally loving space. When you have been practicing Yoga consistently you may have experienced this feeling of oneness; resting in that space where there is no identity, no judgement of yourself or the world, no sense of time, pure contentment (Santosa).

We get glimpses of onesness when we practice consistently (Tapas) and over time we learn to recognise our reactions and judgements of the world arising as a response to our conditioning, not our divine nature. With self-study, we learn to become receptive rather than reactive.

If I ask you "who are you?" It is highly likely that you will reply something related to one of those identities (I'm a Yoga teacher, I'm a social worker, I'm a mum, I'm a sister) because that's the way we can feel a sense of belonging - which is one of our primary need as a human being. But beyond all your different "coats", who are you?

So how can self-study be applied in our day-to-day lives?

- I can start by studying concepts, books and texts about self-study and self-development to grow my understanding,

- If I struggle to recognise my patterns, I can ask for help to a teacher, therapist or a coach - who generally will act like a mirror, reflecting my view of the world back to me,

- I practice guided breathwork and meditation to teach my mind to be still and calm and start to get to know myself.

Let me offer other (perhaps not as obvious) ways to practice self-study:

- I practice other types of meditation, perhaps longer that I am used to, to allow myself to experience getting out of my comfort zone and notice any recurring thought-pattern or reactions,

- I practice journaling; writing down anything that runs through my mind, with complete freedom,

- "We don't see things as they are, we see things as we are." Reflect on this statement.

There are as many worlds as there are people.

When we begin to understand that, we can start to cultivate more compassion and understanding towards other people. From the moment we are born we get influenced by our family, our upbringing, our education, our society, our experiences; which means that who we grow up to be, our personality, very much depends on those factors. Our personality is important to navigate the world, it is a part of who we are but it is not the entirety of our being. Who we are is almost inexplicable, it is felt, it is the energy that makes our hearts beat and the same energy that moves stars, it is divine.

Practice Yoga with me in person or online, where we explore ancient themes around philosophy and ways to move our bodies and experience ourselves in ways that help us navigate the modern world.

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