Inside Yoga 258 (28/1/2019)
Anyone who has attended a yoga class is familiar with being told to look within, but how many of us understand why looking within is important. After all there is so much around us, we might feel we haven’t time to look inside, or feel it’s a bit egotistical to navel gaze.
One of the guidelines within the group called the niyamas, as set out by Patanjali’s yoga sutras, is called svadhyaya or the study of one’s own self. The niyamas are aspects of ourselves which we seek to improve and understand, and this case, study of our self, we are encouraged to understand ourselves more than we would otherwise, and this includes all aspects whether good or bad in our eyes.
This study can be on many levels because we are complex as people, but this is where the yoga practice makes it so simple and accessible, because every practice asks us to pay attention to what we are doing. That is the first stage of self-study, and then we notice what we can improve, for example, our approach to our yoga exercises can tell us a lot about how we are in that moment. Are we in a good mood, or is a bad temper is affecting how we practice? The key is to adapt and improve what we do, so for example, if we are rushing, we slow down, or if we are distracted we sharpen our focus.
Yoga practice is a reflection of who we are and how we approach our life, so by becoming absorbed in our practice we can learn a lot about ourselves. Starting with acceptance of what we notice, especially if we are not happy with what we see, because before we improve our sense of who we are we need to improve how we approach ourselves.
There is a saying to “treat others how we treat ourselves”, but some of us treat ourselves really badly, always berating and criticising, which does us no good! We need to encourage our self! Self-criticism can be a good thing if approached with the need to improve and feel better about ourselves, by striving to be more comfortable with who we are, and thereby happier within. If we are in a good place, it will improve how we appear to others and how we interact with the world.
When we practice long periods of meditation one of the common observations is that our negative thoughts and worries do not necessarily disappear for ever, never to trouble us, but instead meditation reveals to us patterns, and we become familiar with certain negativities we might have and learn to respond appropriately each time one rises. Cultivating the skill of equanimity, a calm approach, in response to every situation is one of the most important aspects of practice, and svadhyaya or self-study.
Svadhyaya teaches us to look into our mirror of who we are and learn not only acceptance of what we see but also learn what the appropriate response is to what we see and feel. This can be challenging, but this is what practice all about, and as we progress our wisdom rises within.
Svadhyaya also encourages study of what others have to say, in books, articles, etc, so the learning never stops. As one the Zen masters often said, “beginners mind Zen* mind” (Zen translates as meditator or meditation).
Read past blog about the yamas and niyamas, click on https://www.yogabristol.co.uk/2011/02/07/inside-yoga-3/
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