We have reached the fourth of the Niyamas. Again, the Niyamas are part of our personal practice and therefore recommended for our yoga journey. The fourth niyama is Svadhyaya. Svadhyaya is the study of oneself. This can take several forms, whether it be the recitation/reading of sacred texts, or our own sadhana (spiritual practice), or a combination of both.
Let us travel back in time together for the sake of this discussion. Try to remember the first time you practiced yoga. Think about the feelings and sensations that you experienced during your initial class. Maybe it was your first time ever doing anything physical in many years. As you moved your body, did you feel tense or at ease? When the instructor guided you through the poses, did you already know how to engage specific muscles to achieve the desired result? Did you even think about the muscles at all, or were you totally immersed in the experience. There are no right or wrong answers to these questions. You were studying (knowingly or unknowingly) your body’s (physical and/or mental) response to the stimuli presented (instructor’s guidance). This is part of Svadhyaya.
I often share with my students how my teaching methodology had changed after I had taught for several years. Most instructors will tell you that the act of teaching students was more educational than the many seminars or workshops they’ve attended. Sure, they might have received some theory, but it was through the application that they honed their teaching. So it goes with your yoga practice. Find out what works, hone what doesn’t, and create the practice that heals and fulfills your needs.
That brings us to the study and recitation of yoga’s sacred texts. Reading and learning about the stories put forth generations ago can be influential in our yogic journey. Reading something like the Yoga Sutras for the first time may make you feel a bit disoriented or wanting more concrete (real-world) examples. That’s why I recommend reading different commentaries on the sutras by various authors so that you are exposed to other thoughts. Some of these commentaries have also evolved to be more inclusive, especially regarding accessibility to all practitioners. But, as I often say, none of the theories or stories put forth mean anything if we cannot personalize and internalize them.
My hope in presenting the Yamas and the Niyamas is that they evoke a willingness to apply them to our lives. This doesn’t imply that you should sell off all of your worldly belongings and become a Sadhu on the streets of Metro Orlando. It does mean that we take time to implement them, in part, to our lives and then employ ‘svadhyaya’ (self-study) to see how it fits into our life. Does that particular Yama or Niyama work for you in a specific form? If not, how can you tweak it to make it manageable? Again, the best part of your yogic journey is that there is no heaven or hell; there is only trial and adjustment.
Frank de la Cruz, E-RYT 200, YACEP, is a Yoga teacher and writer who lives in Central Florida. Frank began his Yoga journey in 2011 and strongly believes that Yoga is for everyBODY.