Svadhyaya – Self-study: study of the Self, study of the self, study of oneself, study by oneself
Intellect influences the mind, and like any other sense and muscle, it can be not only trained, but cultivated. Modern neurology reveals that “mental training and enriched life increase brain weight and size. It increases the number of branches among neurons. ‘The brain is a muscle that grows with exercise’ is not just a metaphor.” (43 The Brain That Changes Itself)
It is also the only practice that comes with its own warning: beware of “armchair yoga”. It’s not meant to be a practice that is just you and a spiritual text up in the mountains. The preceding yamas and niyamas have given us an entire master craftsman’s toolbox of yoga actions to work on. Svadhyaya is tying in the wisdom element. As the Buddhist saying goes, “Wisdom without action has no legs, action without wisdom has no head.”
Iyengar has built an entire yoga-asana system that is in many respects a jnana one. Through deep knowing of the body, insights and realization arise. It is not my personal practice, but cannot be doubted. For further study on this, please refer to any of his texts or your nearest Iyengar Yoga Center (the nearest one to me that I enjoy going to is Yogasana in Brooklyn).
There is a particular way of moving, speaking perhaps, sitting, dancing even, that we do when we are at home alone by ourselves. And it becomes quite clear what those are whenever we have moments where we’re caught by someone in the midst of it. There’s a complete unguarded, natural expression to our being in those moments. Rodney Yee speaks of pranayama as work towards catching the breath home alone by itself. Svadhyaya could be said to be work towards catching the Self alone by itSelf.
“My goal isn’t to take away your confusion. Confusion is a fertile field in which everything is possible. If you think you know, you’ve just calcified again.” Ram Dass
The next time you feel yourself confused, make it a jnana practice. Allow yourself to be confused, without trying to solve it, or push it away. Relax as much as you can, and just be confused. At a certain moment, the rational mind may short circuit, and a glimpse of the Self home alone may be possible.