Svadhyaya they call it in Sanskrit; in English we might call it self study. But no matter what term you use, in the context of our spiritual unfoldment, the importance of a dedicated and continual examination of the nature of this thing that we call “me” cannot be over emphasized.
Although most of us are regularly engaged in activities to maintain the health of our physical selves, much is overlooked regarding the routine maintenance of our mental and emotional lives. The fact is that most of us spend very little time even considering the hidden mental tendencies that stir up all manner of optional unpleasantness within us. From frustration to anger, and impatience to disappointment, the intrusion of emotional turmoil in our lives is too often viewed as part of our personalities, a part of our emotional and mental DNA if you will, and unchangeably so.
However as yoga teaches us, nothing could be farther from the truth. The dis-eases of the mind can be managed and oftentimes downright cured--and this curative process is a core aspect of yoga. As might be expected, the method yoga proposes for our mental and emotional health isn’t all that much different from the process that medical professionals use to promote our physical well-being.
As with any disease, the key to its cure lies in the intimate knowledge of its functioning. Epidemiologists spend their lives devoted to studying the intricacies of a disease process in order to unlock the secrets necessary to heal those afflicted by it. They know that it is only through this kind of depth of understanding that a cure becomes possible. The same is true of the various mental and emotional dis-eases that derive from the functioning of false self or ego. Intimate understanding of the workings of the body/mind organism lays the foundation for freedom from dis-ease; ignorance of these functionings leaves us as disempowered victims.
This is where svadhyaya, or self study comes in. The commitment to pay attention to how we are begins to reveal how dis-ease arises. I notice what happens when my attention drifts away from how things are and onto how I think they should be; I observe how my comparisons of my life to the lives of others makes me feel; I watch the impact of self-criticism and judgment.
Contained within all of these kinds of observations is a small piece of the puzzle that will unlock the secret to everlasting freedom and ease. To watch and wonder, with a sense of curiosity as to how life unfolds is the practice. This is not to say that svadhyaya is the most important piece of our practice, but it is the piece that empowers the other aspects of yoga to work. For without this dedication to observation and understanding, transformation is slow and haphazard at best.
To help the practice of svadhyaya along, I recommend the keeping a personal journal. It's practice I've adhered to for decades.
Journaling about our lives and our practice, about the mundane and fantastic, the highs and the lows, the so-called successes and the so-called failures facilitates our efforts to pay attention. It is a technique that heightens our awareness of our actions, and more importantly, their results. Through this honest process of self examination, our habits are brought into the light of awareness. Our constant choosing against what is—in favor of some fantasy version of how it should be—is shown to be at the root of dissatisfaction and dis-ease. This is the revealing of the intricacies of the dis-ease process itself.
Though it should go without saying, I’ll mention it anyway: for svadhyaya to bear fruit, it's imperative you be ruthlessly honest—not only about the events in your life, but especially about your own culpability in the creation of irritation or frustration. While it’s convenient to blame one’s frustration on an inept clerk, our self study reveals that it is our own expectation of how the clerk should be (but in no way can be, at least in this moment) that poisons our experience. Blame is the ego’s way of shifting responsibility: “It’s not my fault, it’s his.”
So the invitation then is to study and journal about the journey. It’s a practice that at first may seem a bit daunting, but after a short while it will take on a momentum of it own—and pay rich dividends. What’s more, the added benefit of your journaling practice will be in its ability to highlight your progress. Transformation that may seem stagnant from a day-to-day perspective can be seen as quite profound when one turns to a journal entry written months or even years prior; a phenomenon that further fuels our enthusiasm for practice.
A final warning: don’t get serious—with your journaling or your self study. Be light, notice without judgment, and feel how things are working for you. It’s through the process of making the unconscious conscious that transformation occurs, effortless and spontaneously.
In summary then:
write it down
About the Author
Eric Walrabenstein is a nationally-recognized speaker, teacher, and author and is one of the most sought-after authorities on the application of yogic technology for self healing and empowerment in the nation. As the founder of one of Arizona’s largest yoga centers, Eric has long been dedicated to making ancient wisdom and techniques practical and relevant for people from all walks of life.
In addition to his work in his wellness center in Phoenix, Arizona, he is the creator of BOOTSTRAP, a yoga-based program to help troops and veterans heal from post traumatic stress as well as BetterBox, a subscription box revolutionizing the self-improvement industry. An ordained Yogacharya (preceptor of yoga), Eric is currently finishing a book on the Science of Happiness.