patanjali

Foundation Friday: Swadhyaya

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Our Foundation Friday series delves into the basics of yoga—looking at its postures (asana), breath (pranayama), philosophy, and all the other essentials—giving you the foundations upon which to build a solid practice.  Today we are sharing a teaching from Pantanjali's classic yoga sutras, Swadhyaya or self-study.  

 


Foundation Friday: Swadhyaya, Self-Study


Swadhyaya, the 4th Niyama Sva | Self Adhyaya | investigation or inquiry

 

“Study, when it is developed to the highest degree, brings one close to higher forces that promote understanding of the most complex.”

 -The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, 11.44

 

Swadhyaya is one of the five Niyamas (daily observances) presented in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras.  These practices are the foundation of a yogic life; the system of the Niyamas lend to simplifying clutter and observing/attaining stillness.  Pantanjali teaches that these practices progress your spiritual life on the basis that everything you need is inward.  What one looks for is already there.  These 5 observances are a system meant to work in harmony rather than isolation.

 

 

Patanjali also notes that this Niyama involves the study of the ancient scriptures pertaining to Yoga (The Vedas, Upanishads, Bhagavad Gita, and The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali).  These teachings are used to assist us in engaging in life spiritually through self-inquiry.  As we meditate and contemplate our own life's lessons - our thoughts, emotions, reactions - we begin to learn about our true Self.  Reflecting on our own flaws, patterns and stories rather than those of others gives us the opportunity to grow, allowing our mistakes to become lessons.  In your life and within your yoga practice, look at yourself with the same discernment you use with others.  As if you are watching your life on film, notice what happens with your sensations, emotions, feelings, thoughts and breath; feel empowered through your process of self-study.

 

The Five Niyamas

 

The first Niyama: Saucha

Saucha is cleanliness which involves keeping your body clean inside and out.  This includes eating the right food, decluttering your environment, communicating with clean and clear words as well as purification of the mind.

 

The second Niyama: Santosha

Santosha or contentment is the practice of being content with having enough in life.

 

The third Niyama: Tapas

Tapas is the practice of austerity or self discipline. This is a practice for simplifying your life, removing all the unnecessary things that do not serve you. It is a way of reflecting the external into the internal to refine your needs.  The interference of thoughts and emotions can prevent us from seeing our inner stillness.

 

The fourth Niyama: Swadhyaya

The observance of Self allows you freedom to step into your highest form through truth and discernment.

 

The fifth Niyama: Pranidhana

This practice allows us to surrender to the divine or higher reality.  Yoga is a spiritual practice but not a religion - the science and vehicle that enables us to understand our own beliefs better.

Foundation Friday: Sama Vritti Breath

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Yogalifer Amy Stuparyk shows us you can literally practice this breath anywhere!

 


Foundation Friday: Sama Vritti Breath


Pranayama (meaning: to restrain or control life force) Sama Vritti or Equal Breath (Sama = even, smooth, flat, equal or same, Vritti = fluctuations or modifications)

sa-ma vree-tee

 

Why do we practice Sama Vritti breathing?

 

As the saje Patanjali teaches, we practice yoga asanas and meditation to calm or smooth the fluctuations of the mind (yoga-chitta-vritti-nirodhah).  This same principle can apply to sama vritti pranayama—smooth, equal breaths to inspire a calm mind.  As the name suggests, the purpose of sama vritti is to create a steady, equal rhythm to create a quality of 'sameness' or balance in the flow of consciousness. Pranayama—or breathwork—is one of the eight Limbs of Yoga (more on those to come!) and can be practiced on its own, or alongside asana (postures).

 

Sama Vritti may help...

 

  • distractions of the mind
  • anxiety
  • heart rate
  • flow of consciousness
  • general focus and attention
  • achieving a meditative state
  • steadiness in our seated and asana practice
The duration of our everyday inhales and exhales are usually arrythmic or irregular. This indicates an imbalance in our everyday consciousness. The practice of sama vritti or equal breathing will create a quality of 'balance' or 'sameness' in the flow of our consciousness. It is helpful in reaching a state of equilibrium and as you practice, and since it instills a sense of calm and quiet, you might notice that the rest of your day goes by without you becoming agitated by little things.

How is it done?

 

Pranayama often fixes a ratio between the length of each inhale and exhale.  In sama vritti pranayama, the ratio is equal.  It is a good idea to begin the practice of sama vritti pranayama in the reclining position and then continue by moving on to a seated practice.

 

To engage sama vritti pranayama, try restricting your breath to an even count on both the inhale and exhale, for example:  an inhale = 4 counts, and an exhale = 4 counts. Continue with this pattern.

 

You can increase the number of counts for each inhale and exhale as you feel comfortable, enjoying the longest pattern you can sustain!  Remember to take your time and stay steady with the counts. Notice the way your body, mind, and spirit feels quiet and calm after a sama vritti pranayama practice.... and then carry this with you throughout your day!