Mindbodybrew is ultimately about providing a space for written reflection at every step along the yoga path. We hope that by sharing assignments from our Teacher Trainees, we can expand their deep investigation into community-wide dialogue. The following is an excerpt of a piece written by one of our newest, current trainees, Kathy Hartsell, regarding svadhyaya, or self-study.
For me, Svadhyaya means to swim through, sit with, and follow through with the lessons contained in the work of getting to know oneself. This intentional introspection informs the way one engages with and views the world, with shifting of samskara not the object of the work, but often a byproduct of the process. If svadhyaya could be illustrated, I imagine it would be the self sitting with a book of pages made of mirrors. I visualize these mirror pages reflecting imprinted patterns of samskara, each etched in at different depth, each one subject to the gift of neuroplasticity. The willingness to pick up these mirror pages, look at them directly and honestly, and then translate observation into functional value is what svadhyaya currently means to me.
When the concept of svadhyaya was first introduced to me, I couldn’t digest it as something distinct from critical self-analysis. For a while, well-worn patterns of negatively tinged striving, inscribed in ballet studios, academic chairs, and in the environment of my own brain, overshadowed the more subtle, substantive teachings of svadhyaya. The familiar “old” wiring took time to unravel and reorganize, but my relationship with this niyama matured over time. Today, I have a more nourishing relationship with svadhyaya, which has become an anchor for both living and being in the world.
While Light on Yoga emphasizes dedication to sacred literature as a defining part of self-study, I find it more relevant to interpret this directive as simply a call to be resourceful and connected to what is sacred. For me, this includes reading/reflecting on yoga material, studying with senior teachers and conversing with mentors and colleagues about roadblocks and insights. Reaching out in order to more skillfully reach in has become an important part of studying myself, whether it’s with a sutra, a book, a moment in nature, continued education, or a friendship. I wonder if BKS Iyengar would disprove of this loose interpretation, but I find it useful to acknowledge our evolution in this way.
I recently took a class that centered around the idea that the teachings of yoga are found in stillness. We visited this theme in seated meditation and revisited the stillness more than we normally would. It was interesting that I found the repetitive pause somewhat agitating – it was material for self-study.
While momentum from a life of movement creates some degree of initial resistance to prolonged stillness, I have acknowledged that this is a direct route into svadhyaya. Whenever I feel my svadhyaya muddled by the craziness of life, I commit to at least 20 minutes of savasana in my practice, where there is more natural space for reflection. These prolonged savasanas reconnect me to clearer svadhyaya. While I have had this restorative approach for many years, my recent class experience asked me to consider why pausing in the middle of “designated movement time” was so difficult. It asked me look for this in other areas of my life off the mat. I appreciated that such a slight variation of a familiar theme could sketch a question into the journal of my svadhyaya and teach me more about myself.
- Kathy Hartsell