At the end of a recent Wise Women yoga class, one of the students noted that she had become completely confused with a movement in a posture she had done many times before. As she reflected a little more, she told that class she remembered that she hadn’t slept well and was finding it much harder to focus.
Rather than berating herself for not doing the posture as instructed, the student stopped and asked herself if there was a reason for her to be less focused than usual. She was aware, not just of her confusion with the posture, but also about why – less focus. And, she could relate that to having insufficient rest. Accepting, rather than judging or criticizing herself, allowed her to discover an important factor in her confusion.
Awareness and acceptance can keep us from becoming embroiled in judgment and self-criticism. Instead, they help us to have greater insight into why we may be having difficulty, so we can make change. And, by avoiding the downward emotional spiral that often accompanies self- criticism, we can feel
lighter, clearer, and calmer. This is all part of the process of self-study or svadhyaya, one of the foundational concepts of and requirements for yoga practice.
The Sanskrit word “svadhyaya” can be broken down into “sva,” meaning “self” and “adhyaya,” meaning “inquiry” or “examination.” As Desikachar explains in the Heart of Yoga, “All learning, all reflection, all contact that helps you to learn more about yourself is svadhyaya.” Regular yoga practice itself can be mirror for us to see more about ourselves. Relationships offer a huge mirror for us to see our thoughts, hear our words, and examine our actions. Another avenue is the study of texts, particularly those regarded as possessing wisdom: texts such as the Yoga Sutra, the Bible, or other works of personal significance.
Self-study offers us the opportunity to see what thought patterns, habits of speech, and behaviors may be creating problems and suffering in our lives. Once we have the awareness and acceptance of them, we have the possibility of making changes to more positive habits.
I see relationships as a real opportunity for svadhyaya. Recently I was working on a project with another person. As the time came to bring the project to closure, I found myself increasingly annoyed with the many emails and texts. I began to feel resentful of the time my project partner was demanding. And, yes, I was blaming her.
One day there was a shift in my response. I began to hear in my partner’s voice a sense of being overwhelmed, stressed, and tired. As I really listened, I felt my irritation soften. I began to see the role of my ego and attachment to a certain way of doing things. Having this awareness, I could accept that my thinking was contributing to my own annoyance and perhaps to my partner’s stress. Awareness and acceptance allowed me to open to other possibilities in our project and to work together to bring the project to a successful conclusion.
I relish the opportunities that the practice of svadhyaya brings to my life, for it gives me the possibility of moving toward my goals of being a kinder, more generous and peaceful person.