Svadyaya: Yoga’s Niyama of Self-Study


Of all the topics out there to study- why is Self-study one of the most important subjects we can tackle in order to transform our lives? I don’t use the term “tackle” lightly either!

Study of self inherently comes with challenges. It’s suggested that in Svadyaya we study the works of great sages. This requires us to question our motives, observe our behaviors and responses to life then discern just how well we are doing compared to say… the Dali Llama or Desmond Tutu. What we uncover and learn about ourselves (warts and all) can sometimes be surprising and oftentimes painful. The painful aspect of self-reflection is frankly the thing that keeps many of us from looking too deeply into our own personality. It takes courage to be honest, embrace truth and confront our selves head-on. It’s scary.

So the nature of our investigation needs to allow compassion to take the helm. When transformation is our goal, not only must we learn to know ourselves well, it is essential to learn to love ourselves well. As easy as it is to avoid our own truths, it is also easy to get stuck in the past or stuck in the perception that the past has a death-grip on the present. Behaviors that are hard to change can feel like permanent parts of our psychological make-up and keep us stuck, living in service to a past that we can’t change and over time, we have given too much power to that past, allowing it to shape our lives in unskillful and unhealthy ways.

Yoga is unique in the ways that it encourages us to “be” in the present moment. After all, the physical body is always present in the moment. The body never lives in the past; the body is always about the Now. It’s the mind that wanders! The mind can dwell in the past or fling itself far into the future, creating concerns about things that cannot be changed and things that cannot be predicted. The rub is that what we think can directly affect the body. We know that when we perceive stress, the nervous system kicks into the “fight or flight” response and the body automatically responds in negative ways. So it is in our best interest to investigate our mind and cultivate ways to take responsibility for the way we relate to our thoughts.

In the practice of asana the mind is drawn again and again to the present as we work through movement and alignment, challenged to become our own witness as we breathe and move. Our strengths and weaknesses emerge as we learn to take complete responsibility for what is unfolding on the mat. We are able to tune-in to what is authentic about both our physical and emotional experience. Then the intention is to practice Svadyaya off the mat- using life in all its aspects as ground for study.

Gaining physical strength and flexibility, we de-bunk the myths created in our minds about our limitations; we let go of the past. Or perhaps we discover limitations and we learn to accept and understand them. As we thirst for growth and transformation, we begin to not only embrace truth as we discover it; we actively seek truth. We begin to see who we are and who we ARE NOT. Over time, clarity comes in glimpses or profound revelations. Over time, with practice, Svadyaya helps develop the courage and confidence to make better choices based out of seeing ourselves more clearly.


About firebrightyoga

Vinyasa Yoga Teacher @ Living Yoga, Coldspring NY and Private Yoga Instruction (200 hr RYT registered through Yoga Alliance) Hudson Valley artist living in Peekskill, NY
This entry was posted in Firebright Yoga, Inspiration, Spirituality, Thoughts, Wellness, Yoga Philosophy and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Svadyaya: Yoga’s Niyama of Self-Study

  1. joette says:

    Well said, Beth. I love it. 🙂

  2. Julie says:

    A wonderful essay which is full of heart. I myself, am going through a challenging personal time at age 56 and there is never enough emphasis on this Niyama….as we continue to cultivate a kind heart and open mind for change and GROWTH! THANK YOU FOR SUCH WONDERFUL WRITING!!!

    • You are so welcome.The opportunities for self study are all around us if we keep our eyes and hearts open- a challenge in itself sometimes! Thank you so much for your kind words about my writing. I wish you the best in your challenging times. Namaste!

    • Thank you Julie for your kind words about my post and my writing. I hope they are useful on your challenging journey. Just remembering that everything in life is an opportunity for self-study is sometimes a challenge in itself! All the best to you- Namaste!

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