Svadhyaya: Self-Study

The practice of Svadhyaya, or "Self-Study/Self-Reflection" is one of the Niyamas - part of the 8 limbs of yoga. In a previous blog post on the 5 Niyamas, I wrote: "Svadhyaya is the willful examination of our behaviors - our willingness to observe our flaws and weaknesses and examine our actions, thoughts, emotions, and desires more closely so we can better understand ourselves, what motivates us, what are our personal obstacles and what we need to work on. Svadhyaya is cultivating mindfulness of ourselves so we can see beyond who we are in any given moment and see our connection to True Self or the Divine. Svadhyaya can include study of the ancient sacred texts such as the Yoga Sutras and the Bhagavad Gita, which can help guide us through these practices. Without practicing self-reflection, it is nearly impossible to grow on your yoga journey." (You can read the full post here: We can start by examining where our beliefs come from: Nature or Nurture? Our direct experiences in life?, or the foundational beliefs our family instilled in us? Have they changed over time as we have grown and had our own experiences, perhaps even experiencing different cultures? What is the purpose of these beliefs? For instance, some religious practices and observances may direct our behavior, teach us respect and remind us that we are connected to a Higher Source; however, some religious beliefs may cause division when we believe our way of observing is somehow better or superior to another way, or when we become judgmental about someone else's spiritual practices.

Yoga offers us the practice of meditation to examine our thoughts and beliefs. Meditation allows us to examine what our "monkey mind" spends the most time thinking about and what we spend the most energy ruminating on each day. We can also read sacred texts and learn how others see the world. Expose yourself to different practices. Open your mind. Listen to other people. When we become closed and stuck in our beliefs, we often hurt others, whether we mean to or not. We cause separation not only between ourselves and others, but between ourselves and our Higher Self. This separation can lead to depression, isolation and illness. The Listening practice is a great way to practice self-study. I spent a year really listening to others without judgement and without inserting my opinion (unless it was to respond to something racist) - This is harder than it seems. We want to be right and we often think our reality is the only way. Social media lets us express our opinions at every whim and without the physical presence of others to check our "truth". It is so easy to continue to build a false narrative about ourselves, our faith, our environment or our reality. We then get caught up with only reading things that support that reality and we get excited by how many "likes" we get from others who agree with us. But do we stop and listen when someone makes us uncomfortable and says, "Hey, wait a minute - I find that offensive."? When we listen and really hear others, we are also practicing kindness and compassion, "to be with". In listening to others, we develop connection instead of separation. By practicing mindfulness of our own behaviors, we are able to listen without reaction and without inserting ourselves. We can then step back and possibly make better choices. We can ask ourselves: Is it True? Is it Kind? Is it Necessary? before we speak our minds. When we take this practice into our meditation, we can practice being the Witness - stepping back from the film rolling across the screen of our mind and perhaps learn to direct our thoughts towards Higher Consciousness. We can start by sitting with our thoughts for just 10 minutes a day of meditation, anchored by our breath, and see what transforms over the course of a week, a month, a year. You may find yourself become a more compassionate person. You may find yourself releasing old belief patterns about yourself, about others, or the world - that no longer serve you.

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