“Knowing others is intelligence; knowing yourself is true wisdom. Mastering others is strength; mastering yourself is true power.” — Lao-Tzu
Svadhyaya is one of the five niyamas of the eight limbs of yoga. The first part of the word—sva—means “self.” The second part—dhyaya—is derived from the verb dhyai, which means “to contemplate, to think on, to recollect, or to call to mind.” It translates to the study of one’s own self.
Western culture tends to view self study as psychoanalytical or self help. An alternative translation of svadhyaya tells us that the word means “reciting, repeating, or rehearsing to one’s self.” Svadhyaya can mean repeatedly impressing infinite consciousness on your mind and returning over and over again to your intuitive vision of that consciousness.
We practice this through contemplative recitations (usually taken from sacred texts) and meditation on a mantra (mantra japa). These practices help us surrender to an increasingly transparent vision of our own self and are healthy habits for living in alignment with the principles of yoga.
7 ways to practice svadhyaya
As we transition into this wet equinox and more time indoors, here are 7 ways you might practice svadhyaya.
Recite a mantra. Whether you prefer Sanskrit chants or your own personal mantras like this Spotify Reflection by Vision Tools, reciting mantras can be very powerful. You can open and close your mantra with an Om or a sacred ritual like lighting a candle or saying a prayer or intention. Doing it daily sets the intention deeper into your central nervous system. This builds prana—and, ultimately, joy.
Read sacred texts. Go back to the Bhagavad Gita, The Yoga Sutras, or your favorite inspirational book. (For me, right now that's Women Who Run with the Wolves or Meditations on the Mat.) Highlight your favorite passages or listen to the audiobook in the bathtub. Write your favorite quotes in your journal, on a Post-It, or in your phone. Be inspired.
Keep a journal. Many studies have shown that journaling reduces depression. For example, a 2006 study by Stice, Burton, Bearman, & Rohde showed that writing in a journal can be as effective as cognitive-behavioral therapy when it comes to reducing the risk of depression in young adults. Whether you're doing Morning Pages from Julia Cameron's The Artist's Way or just writing to-do lists or random things down to come back to, journaling can be very therapeutic and help you get to know yourself better.
Make a gratitude list. Writing a list of the things you're grateful for everyday can be a powerful inner tool and give you more insight into your self. Follow a book like The Magic by Rhonda Byrne or simply make a list every day and notice how your gratitude changes and expands over time.
Sit in nature. Nature slows us down and gets us back into the rhythms we were born with. Exposure to nature has been linked to a host of benefits, including improved attention, lower stress, better mood, reduced risk of psychiatric disorders, and even upticks in empathy and cooperation. Sit under a tree, take a walk on a trail, go to the beach. If you live in a city, you might sit on your balcony, take a long walk along the river, or feed the birds. Whatever your way in is, nature is calming and self reflective.
Meditate or journey. Do a five, ten, or twenty-minute meditation or journey. Here is a ten-minute sound bowl meditation or a 30-minute drumming meditation you can journey with. You can also just listen to music—or nothing at all.
Practice yoga poses. When we cultivate a daily asana practice, we sit in silence with ourselves and study the way our body, mind, and emotions interact with one another on the mat. We show up deeper and deeper every day, hoping to no longer find separation between our mind and body. You can find almost every type of yoga class online, even Ashtanga. Or visit your local studio and meet like-minded people.
Please consult your physician or oncologist before you do any physical exercise like yoga. Please read my Medical Disclaimer for more information.