The fourth Niyama, Svadhyaya (self-study)
The important question to ask then is what is the self?
The Vedas teach that there is the self with a small s which has its own unique ‘fingerprint’ of a physiological, emotional and intellectual make-up, with its unique preferences and aversions, dispositions, habits and particular style of relating to the world: these are called samskaras and are imprints from past lives as well as this lifetime, based on past karmic actions, which we carry in our subtle body. A detailed map of this can be ascertained from our natal Vedic astrology charts.
Then there is the Self with a capital S which is non-different from the Soul or Jivatman, which incarnates from one lifetime into another, and chooses the a) type of body to have, the b) life experiences to undergo, including the traumatic ones, c) the family to be born into and the c) Soul contracts with the specific people we will form relationships with: all of this in the name of making Spiritual progress, for the Self to evolve.
There is also the Supersoul or Paramatman which is God or Source or the Universe or however you see that transcendental Force that infuses all that exists. In Vedic teachigs, there is this classical analogy of the ocean likened to the Paramataman or Supersoul and the waves in the ocean being the Jivataman or individual souls. The waves are made up of the same “stuff” as the ocean but they are not the ocean. Just as a wave arises, breaks and then dissipates again, the Soul, Jivatman or Self incarnates into form in the material world, transforms, and then merges again with the formless when we die, while still maintaining its individual identity.
The Self chooses which life lessons to learn even before we are born. This is why it is so important to do self-study so that we can learn those lessons in this current life time already, for rapid Spiritual progress.
We can do self-study in a number of ways:
1) Firstly we can start by observing our thoughts and feelings without getting caught up in them – this is called practicing mindfulness. 2) Then we can also study scriptures, of which Master Patanjali’s sutras, the Bhagavat Gita and the Hatha Yoga Pradipika are excellent sources. If these are not available, one can also turn to self-help books and online yoga articles. However, reading these without applying the wisdom contained in them in your life is pointless. 3) We can practice Svadhyaya by taking note of physical ailments or limitations, especially when we doing our asana practice. For example, we can study where we are holding on to tension in the body: tight hips is most likely a sign that we are holding on to relationship traumas/insults, stored in the sacral chakra. More “New Age” pop psychology books can be consulted for the metaphysical anatomy of the physical body, such as the likes of Louise Hay and Caroline Myss. Even just considering the particular chakra associated with the afflicted body part/area reveals a great deal of what needs some tending to in your life. Also, on the mat, we can study the citta vrittis or fluctuations of the mind as there are no phones, chores, emails, and people to distract us, making for an “easier” mindfulness practice.
Finally Svadhyaya also means that we show appreciation for how far we have come, how we have grown and become better versions of ourselves already. I personally need to take note of this aspect of Svadhyaya, as I tend to over-analyse and be very hard on myself in this pursuit to Spiritually evolve…
In light of that, let’s celebrate the lead which has already turned into gold in our lives!!!