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.