“Knowing others is intelligence; knowing yourself is true wisdom. Mastering others is strength; mastering yourself is true power.” – Lao Tzu
The term Svadhyaya literally means ‘one’s own reading’ or ‘self-study’.The word itself is made up of Sva, meaning own, self, or the human soul, and Adhyaya, meaning lesson, lecture, or reading, and can imply the practice of studying scriptures, as well as a practice of studying the Self. It is the fourth Niyama of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras and has the potential to deepen our yoga practice way beyond the mat.
In many pieces of writing regarding the practice of yoga, when we see the word self written with a small ‘s’, it refers to ourselves in this physical form, our ego, and who we consider ourselves to be on a daily basis. When you read the word ‘Self’ with a capital ‘S’, this is likely to refer to the true self, Atman, or the divine within us.
Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra says: “Study thy self, discover the divine” II.44
It’s probably fair to say that the more we realise what we are not, the closer we come to realising who or what we truly are. By studying ‘the self’ and recognizing our habits and thought processes, we realise how much of what we do and think is far from who we really know we are.
When we listen to the ego, we often do things that don’t always align with our true beliefs or intuition. The ‘I’ or small ‘self’ is mostly concerned with survival, which usually entails getting what it wants in all situations, and proving it is indeed ‘the best’ despite what consequences that might have for us. The small self judges, criticises, fears, conditions, doubts and is essentially the cause of the chitta vrittis, or ‘fluctuations of the mind’.
The practice of svadhyaya requires satya (honesty) in order to view ourselves from an honest standpoint, tapas (discipline) – because taking an honest look at ourselves isn’t always something we like doing…. And ahimsa (non violence) which reminds us to look upon ourselves without judgement or criticism.
By paying attention to, or ‘studying’ our ‘self’, we become more aware of the things we do that harm us, and also those which serve us and bring us closer to that process of ‘yoking’ or ‘uniting’ with the true Self.
Written by Emma Newlyn and published on www.ekhartyoga.com/articles/philosophy/the-niyamas-svadhyaya-or-self-study