The fourth Niyama is Svadhyaya, the study of the self.

“Yoga is the journey of the Self, through the Self, to the Self.” -The Bhagavad Gita

The work or practice we do on the mat is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to yoga.

On the mat work helps us to see, feel and watch the part that is under the iceberg.

Svadhyaya can be defined as:

  • Self study
  • Self awareness
  • Self knowledge
  • Self reflection
  • Self-examination

When I teach yoga or work with clients in yoga therapy, I will ask questions like what do you notice?  How does your left side feel versus your right side? What’s the same or different? What are you sensing in your body?  Does what you feel have a color, shape or texture.

These questions of inquiry are to help my students and clients get to know themselves better.  As we become more aware of our physical bodies we also cultivate the ability to become more aware of our emotional/mental states.

In yoga, the body is considered a container.  We try to strengthen our containers by strengthening the koshas or five sheaths of the body – the physical body, the breath body, the mental body, the witnessing body and the bliss body.  We do this through the use of asanas/postures, breathwork, meditation and watching and being aware.

Another way to look at Svadhyaya is from the perspective of connection.  There is a yoga story about how we developed our identities/egos.  In simple terms, the story states that a drop rose up and separated from the ocean.  When it was disconnected from the ocean it looked around, said “WOW!” and then said, “who said that?”.  This started the development of ego or identity.  After that, the drop didn’t want to go back into the ocean – that seemed frightening.  Another time, I’ll tell more of the theory or philosophy behind the story.  For right now, we can say that the drop forgot how it was connected to everything.

In our day to day lives, we forget we are all interconnected.  Instead, we often feel we are separate from everything around us.  Svadhyaya helps us to reconnect the dots and remember we are connected to everything and everyone.  We are all a part of the ocean.