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Svadhyaya (self-study, witness consciousness)

Svadhyaya (self-study, witness consciousness)

This piece was originally published in the OWY newsletter in December of 2013.

Previously I touched on the third niyama, tapas (purification, discipline).  As a quick review the 8 limbs of yoga are:

  1. Yamas (external restraints)
  2. Niyamas (internal observances)
  3. Asana (postures)
  4. Pranayama (breath control)
  5. Pratyahara (withdrawal of the senses)
  6. Dharana (concentration)
  7. Dhyana (meditation)
  8. Samadhi (absorption)

The second limb, Niyamas, include:

  1. Saucha (cleanliness)
  2. Santosha (contentment, modesty, acceptance)
  3. Tapas (purification, discipline)
  4. Svadhyaya (self-study, witness consciousness, who am I?)
  5. Ishvara Pranidhana (yield to Ultimate Reality, non-attachmeng to the benefits of our actions)

Svadhyaya traditionally means study of the Vedas or scripture. It’s expanded to mean self-study, witness consciousness, and asking the question who am I?

I’m not sure how often, or how deeply, I’ve asked the question “who am I?”, but taking the time to step back and look at my thoughts and actions has been one of the best tools I’ve found in transforming myself for the better.

Taking stock in how we respond in various situations allows us to make improvements and adjustments where needed. When we take a good hard look at how we talk to and treat others, or even ourselves, we often can be surprised. Creating that space between us in our actions allows for a state of objective assessment without judgment (which we can quickly latch onto).

This process of stepping back and witnessing without attachment or judgment when looking back on situations helps to train us to be able to do it in the moment, when it really counts. There is real freedom in being able to reflect on a situation saying “that went well” instead of thinking “I wish I would’ve handled that better”.

Journaling has been an invaluable part of my personal self study. There’s nothing like putting something down in black and white. The regular practice of it allows me to see the regular behaviors, the tendencies I have that I repeat and need to regularly examine to change.

Something we did in teacher training on this topic was to identify ways we avoid getting to know ourselves. We don’t always notice the little habits we have that keep us busy. Like a good Illusionist these habits keep us occupied and unable to see the ways we hamper our own good fortune.

So what ways can you pull back the veil to see more clearly how your actions effect the world? Are there things you do just to keep busy, to keep from slowing down enough to really check in with yourself? Is there any simple thing you can do to promote a witness consciousness, a detached, honest view of your actions and their effects?

Continue with Ishvara Pranidhana.

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