Svadhyaya: Yoga as a tool for self-discovery
Updated: Mar 9, 2022
Other than a great way to pretentiously use a bit of mispronounced Sanskrit, what is Svadhyaya and why was it the theme of my first ever yoga retreat?
Svadhyaya means self-discovery, self-inquiry, or self-study. Yoga recognises that, deep within all of us, lies a "true self", or divine self. Beyond what our name is, what our beliefs are, our marital status, our age, our nationality, and everything else, beyond all that lies a core which is at the basis of all living beings. We often end yoga classes by saying "Namaste". Have you ever thought of what Namaste truly means? Amongst other possible meanings, that expression can be translated as "the light within me recognises and honours the light within you". No matter what differentiates us from one another, yoga teaches us that we all possess the same light, and divinity, within.
Through the practice of yoga, then, we can get closer and closer to that True Self, by studying our bodies, our minds, our reactions, our egos, and everything that constitutes a part of who we truly are. Asanas (the physical postures), for example, are a great way to get in touch with the Self. How do we react when practicing a difficult posture? Are we able to stay present with the discomfort? What kind of thoughts do we have? How do our egos manifest when the final posture does not look like what we had in mind? Meditation too is an ideal way to discover what hides behind the distractions of our daily lives. We sit in silence, with closed eyes, withdraw from our external senses, and turn inward. From a position of witness, we can finally notice what is going on inside, what kind of thoughts are going through our minds, how the breath feels, etc...
What happens on the mat is often a reflection of how we live our lives off the mat. Svadhyaya, therefore, is an opportunity to explore our inner world, so that we can make unconscious processes conscious, and live our lives with intent and mindfulness.