By Danielle Sheather
Of all the Niyamas, Svadhyaya has left a lasting impression on me. One particular image is ingrained in my mind when I think of self-study: the notion of a journey. I daydream about an expedition or a grand voyage.
Svadhyaya is a spiritual study, a tour of one’s deepest thoughts, ideas, and fundamental nature. It is the study to know oneself in an effort to understand why we are the way we are and catch a glimpse of our Divine Self. It is independent of the thoughts and ideas to the world around us, when one can study the self with a mind free from the disturbances of outside forces. Spiritual study then can help unlock our understanding of who we are as well as our relationship to the outside world.
As Iyengar describes in Light on Life, “You will not reach knowledge of the Divine Self without passing through Self-knowledge. Your practice is your laboratory, and your methods must become ever more penetrating and sophisticated. Whether you are in asana or doing pranayama, the awareness of the body extends outwards, but the senses of perception, mind and intelligence should be drawn inward.”
Patanjali describes Svadhyaya as “study that concerns the true Self, not merely analyzing the emotions and mind as psychologists and psychiatrists do. Anything that will elevate your mind and remind you of your true Self should be studied: The Bhagavad Gita, Bible, Koran, these Yoga Sutras, or any uplifting scripture. Study does not mean just passing over the pages. It means trying to understand every word - studying with the heart.”
A vital part of Svadhyaya is the fact that we are not alone in our journey to the Self. Others have gone before us and succeeded! There is no doubt that history and literature show us that Svadhyaya occurs from generation to generation: From Jesus to Buddha, Siddhartha to Arjuna, all of these figures embarked on a journey. While some were geographical, all were metaphysical and in an effort to truly study the self.
Iyengar also said “spiritual realization is the aim that exists in each one of us to seek our divine core. That core, though never absent from anyone, remains latent within us. It is not an outward quest for a Holy Grail that lies beyond, but an inward journey to allow the inner core to reveal itself.” Here, Iyengar describes Svadhyaya as being a journey to the self, a journey inward so as to truly find our divine core.
Thus the study of scripture becomes vastly important to Svadhyaya. The aforementioned scriptures and characters have paved the way to their Divine Self. Patanjali reminds us that “we don’t exhaust the Bible even after reading it hundreds of times. Each time we read it we see it in a new light. This is the greatness of the Holy Scriptures… Each time we read these works we elevate ourselves to see a little more.”
In BKS Iyengar’s, Light on Life, we are taught that “to know one self is to know one’s body, mind and soul.” There is no better way to understand the Self than by first taking a glimpse at those who have passed before us and studying with our hearts, then delving deep into our thoughts, ideas, and emotions without judgment or fear; but with an open mind and an open heart.
In that vein, part of my attraction to this particular Niyama came about from my father’s inspiration. At 40 years old, with two children approaching university years, a mortgage and a wife, he chose to open his own business. It was through self-study that he realized he was tired of doing things other people’s way. Now, 19 years later, he is peacefully removed when he speaks of his spiritual study, as though it was merely a necessary step in becoming the man he always envisioned himself to be. His spiritual study throughout that time in his life and the many prior years, led him to take a gigantic leap off of a cliff, a leap in which he did not know if there was water or land below. He simply leapt and fell into an abundant pool. While he admits that Svadhyaya was arduous, he cannot imagine it being any other way. He studied every day in order to manifest what he wanted in his life.
So why is it that so many people (myself included) are afraid of going inward to discover what is on the inside? Funny enough, the answer to that question lies in going deeper into self-study and allowing discoveries to occur independent of whether it is good or bad.
For example, last summer I took a Chakra workshop in which I was asked to dive deep into the self to discover how I dealt with milestones from my early childhood to present day. Many emotions, from anger to elation, frustration, and guilt came to the surface. But how was it possible that all of these emotions lay dormant in me? It was as if they were camping in my back yard and I had no idea they were even there! Perhaps then I would have no control when any one of these emotions would come out. I was furious.
This was my first real attempt at Svadhyaya and because of it, my inner core is no longer latent and has begun to reveal itself to me. With the help of further spiritual study I feel that the universe and its predecessors have been supporting me in opening up in further Svadhyaya. It is true what Sri Dharma Mittra says: “Be receptive and all is coming.” Especially in Svadhyaya!
Danielle Lydia Sheather first found yoga through dance, and thanks her primary dance teachers and several others for introducing her to yoga without ever really knowing what they were doing. She has been to every continent dancing on cruise ships and on tours. Danielle has since been in NYC for 3 years, the longest she's been anywhere since high school. A self-proclaimed nomad, she loves to travel but decided to lay down some roots for a while. Danielle graduated from Sonic Yoga’s 200-hour teacher training in 2009 and from the DYLOAY 500 Hour program in 2012. She has taught in Bed Stuy at St John's Bread of Life, Yoga on the Rooftop, Sonic Yoga, The Giving Tree Yoga Studio, New York Yoga and the Dharma Yoga Center. She is also the ballet mistress and choreographs for Dance Dimensions in New Milford New Jersey and continues to perform here in NYC. She believes that it is a teacher’s responsibility to continue to practice in order to grow, understand, and honor their commitment to enlightenment thus being a student of life! PS: She is also fluent in French Canadian.