The niyamas of Yoga are the observances we strive to uphold in order to live our best, “right” life. While recently reflecting on the essential niyama of yoga, svadyaya (ongoing investigation of the self), I remembered a story of my childhood that has always stuck with me.
I had just turned 10 years old, running amuck through the house, fighting, chasing and being chased by my sister and driving my mom crazy. Things got really loud and out of control. I could hear my mom coming around the corner to put an end to it. I knew I was “in for it”! So I did what any self-respecting 10 year old in the 60’s would do- I hid behind the nearest door! I was standing very still, holding my breath, my heart beating. I knew hiding was a little dicey, not at all logical; and then I heard my sister yell out- “SHE’S BEHIND THE DOOR MOM!!!!” I’ll never forget my mom’s response that day. I could hear her just on the other side of the door that I foolishly thought was somehow going to “protect” me. When I heard her voice, it was very quiet.
“Well, Beth’s 10 years old now and she knows better. She’s just going to have to grow up.” I was stunned, because I was expecting punishment and I got this calm directive. In a flash, my mom showed me the self of my bad-behavior and at the same time, showed me my potential, the Self within me beyond those small ideas of self-identity. That day, my mom was my “guru”. She offered me a mirror that reflected my self back to me and in doing so, illuminated a path leading to greater awareness.
“… the ancients used the word darshana—which means something like a mirror image—to describe the teaching contained in sacred texts, and to describe what happens when we sit with a spiritual master. In both cases, we can see our neuroses, our small-mindedness, and our pettiness mirrored completely. At the same time, we can also see beyond our current state to something like our divine potential. And that too is who we are.” Gary Kraftsow
When we practice, it is important to look carefully, both at who we are and what is actually happening in our practice, on our mats. It takes self-reflection to most efficiently utilize each moment in our practice. We need to utilize our study tools.
Breathe– it helps to “transform” our minds and our actions into calm presence. The breath gives us a tool for bringing us to a more discerning way of looking at what is. When we practice with intelligence, we keep our body safe and stabilized.
Feel– feel your body. Study feeling as you move through each asana. Feel deeply when your body opens. Feel deeply when the body is steady and firm. Feel the feet, feel the spine- get in touch with every square inch! Your body is a mirror too and has so much to teach you.
Listen deeply to alignment– Through alignment we stay present. We learn little about our bodies or our self when we are not present. When our minds are not present, we can still function, but we can’t engage the body fully. We just make shapes and go through the motions. Gold mines inhabit the present- the body is firing so much information to us if we are willing to be aware and attentive. Follow with an open, curious mind. Modify by feeling your own limitations and respecting your edge.
The ongoing practice of yoga mirrors the self to us- and we then study what we see and feel in that mirroring. Use your practice today and everyday as feedback for svadyaya.