The practice of svadhyaya entails learning about yoga’s wisdom teachings, committing them to memory, and taking them to heart. After exposing yourself to yoga’s wisdom by reading or listening/learning from teachers, practice studying yourself and your behaviour in relation to those teachings.
For example, let’s say you just learned about the principle of ‘truthfulness’. To turn your learning into a transformational form of self-study, here’s a process you could follow:
1) read about/listen to the wisdom teaching
2) commit it to memory
3) practice integrating it into your life
4) study your behaviour in relation to truthfulness. Do you struggle with it? Why? In which kinds of situations?
5) adjust your behaviour and
7) revisit the teaching
Lather, rinse and repeat steps 1-7. This is how you integrate yoga into your life. This is how you bring your mind and heart into union, and make the teachings part of who you are. It is how you become a yogi.
Have you ever heard the saying ‘how you do anything is how you do everything’? Self-study invites us to take an honest look at how we do things and adjust our behaviour so that we are operating from a place of wisdom, rather than habit. Though, ideally, through the practice of svadhyaya acting out of wisdom becomes your habit!
Here are some ways you can practice svadhyaya on and off the mat:
Intention/Affirmation: ‘I am a student of myself.’
Study your thoughts/words/actions. Do they align with your beliefs?
Breath: Viloma I (see video below). HOW did you approach the breathing technique? Did you use extreme force? Did you feel excited/reluctant to try something new?
On the Mat: Do your practice and observe How you approached it. Do you have a tendency to overdo it? Underdo it? Do you practice with enthusiasm? Do you like to do the same thing every time or do you prefer novelty? Is this your general approach to life? Is there anything you need to adjust?
Off the Mat: Choose a principle, take it to heart. Follow the steps laid out for integrating the teachings into your life
An early name for a yogi was ‘tapasvin’, a practitioner of tapas or voluntary self-challenge. A tapasvin is someone that lives on the edge and deliberately challenges their body and mind, applying formidable willpower to any practice they vow to undertake. (The Deeper Dimensions of Yoga by Georg Feuerstein)
A yogi seeks out opportunities to transform their habits and limitations so that they can achieve liberation. You cannot be free if you are a slave to your habits. By intentionally bumping up against our limitations and transforming them we find growth, new freedoms and power!
Breaking a habit or busting through a self-imposed limitation is hard work and requires tremendous self-discipline. Simultaneously wanting something (the whole bag of chocolate chip cookies) and not wanting something (the whole bag of chocolate chip cookies) creates all kinds of internal friction. The yogis would say that friction creates heat, heat creates fire and fire is what transforms us! A yogi is someone that just keeps throwing herself into the fire of transformation.
“Genuine tapas makes us shine like the Sun. Then we can be a source of warmth, comfort and strength for others.” -Georg Feuerstein
Here are some ways to play with evolving yourself on and off the mat:
Intention/Affirmation: I choose behaviours that support my health and well-being
Breath: Bhastrika (bellows breath). See video below. Do up to 5 rounds of 10 breaths
On the Mat: Show up on your mat. That alone takes discipline. Consider doing a practice you usually resist doing. For example, If you resist Restorative practices, entertain the possibility that learning how to rest and relax might actually be just the thing you need. We often resist the practices we need most!
Off the Mat: Choose a habit you’d like to transform. Put some boundaries around it (i.e. do less of it for a few days)