Svadhyaya, or Self-Study, is the fourth of Patanjali’s Niyamas. (For more information on the Yamas and Niyamas, read this article.) Self-study seems very straight forward however, like all of the Yamas and Niyamas, there is depth and complexity to it.
In self-study, you don’t merely examine yourself and try to gain additional awareness of yourself. You want to study yourself so that you can have an increased awareness of others. Others can mean other people, or it can also mean God or a divine spirit.
Too often, we breeze through a day. We move from this to that and, by the end of the day, decompress and recharge so we can do it again tomorrow. Mindfulness is frequently absent from our living. Paying attention to what is going on around and inside us is crucial for well being.
As you move through your day, ask yourself the hard questions: What do I think of that? How does that make me feel? Why?
If you think about it, many thoughts we have about how things should be, who we should be, what we should like are created for us by others. Family, friends, and the media actually take a large role in shaping our thoughts and beliefs. With self-study, you strip away the thought and feelings of others to reveal what you truly believe.
Self-study is frequently accomplished with help from books and increased mindfulness.
Become Aware of Your Interactions with Others
In her book, The Yamas and Niyamas, Deborah Adele says, “We cannot love or hate something about another person unless it is already inside of us first.” While I’m not completely sure this is true, it is such an interesting thought. How exciting to think that what I love about someone else is really something that is already inside of me!
So often, the things we admire about others are things that we perceive that we lack. For example, I have a couple of friends who are extremely thoughtful. In every interaction you have with them, they make you feel special and lift you up.
I really love that about them, and I try to spread that thoughtfulness and joy to other people that I meet. Still, every time I am around these friends, I think, Wow! That’s how it’s done. What an inspiration!
Pay attention to the things you admire most about others. Do you have those skills, too?
Examine Your Spiritual Self
As we continue to explore our relationships with ourself and with others, we naturally begin to explore our relationship with God, or our spiritual self. It is believed that through self-study of our spiritual self, we will become enlightened and able to “see beyond our current state.”
This is not to say that we will become psychic. It means that we will gain insight about the larger picture of the universe and how things work.
Take a look at the world around you. Can you see a divine spirit at work in all that exists?
How do you practice Svadhyaya? Are there any self-help books that you recommend? Let us know in the comments below.
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Here is a wonderful (and short) video from Janet Stone on Svadhyaya.