The Eight Limbs of Yoga by Kristen Keaney




This month we’ll look at Svadhyaya, the fourth Niyama, which can be translated as “self-study”. It’s important to note that in traditional scriptures discussing yoga, the word self with a lowercase “s” is in reference to our physical being and the same word used with a capital “S” is about the true self, or The Divine. So, in its truest essence Svadhyaya is the studying of the self, through reading of scriptures and looking inward to help us better connect ourselves to the divine that resides in all of us.

Now I will confess that sometimes it can be hard to digest The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, and other similar scriptures on Yoga. If the ancient scriptures seem a bit too heavy it can be helpful to start with an article or a book that discusses the practices and traditions of Yoga to deepen your knowledge. Svadhyaya can simply be reading and studying any writings that help us to move towards self-realization. Taking time to delve deeper into the wisdom that can come from the tradition of Yoga provides us with the incredible opportunity to live and grow in life with a strong sense of Self. When we put energy towards developing ourselves in a way that is completely authentic to who we truly are we allow our lives to evolve in a positive direction and positively affect those who choose to be around us.  

Svadhyaya is easy to practice on the mat. One of the most beautiful elements of a yoga practice is that it forces us to become fully present. Without stimulation coming from our phones, daily tasks and human interactions we are left on our mats with nothing but our mind, breath and body. Awareness during our practice enables us to discover and study where we hold tension in our bodies and what thoughts we let take up space in our mind. With this new awareness our physical yoga practice (asana) gives us the opportunity to release tensions in the mind-body to help us better heal ourselves from the inside out.

Svadhyaya off the mat is a little bit trickier. Like we’ve mentioned, Svadhyaya can be viewed as the reading or studying of a text that helps to deepen our connection and understanding of Yoga. However, Svadhyaya can also mean studying the self as we go about our daily routines. In a society that thrives on multitasking it can be next to impossible to remove ourselves from our technology and our social engagements and allow ourselves to observe. Some days we may even find it difficult to rest in Savasana because the act of doing “nothing” can feel too challenging.

This month I suggest taking a step back and observing yourself. When you focus on your actions or your thoughts you introduce the element of Svadhyaya into your daily life. “Why am I choosing to do this?” or “why am I reacting this way?” can sometimes be enough to help us distinguish between our actions being driven by our ego (or how we think we should be perceived), versus our truest self. And lastly, Svadhyaya, as it relates to scriptures and study can be explored by reading a new book!

Reading Suggestions:

Light on Yoga by B.K.S Iyengar

Health, Healing & Beyond by T.K.V Desi achar

Start Where You Are by Pema Chodron