The final two niyamas: Svadhyaya and Isvara pranidhanadva can be the most challenging, both to work with and discuss, as they are the most internal and therefore less in the range of words and more in the range of experience. The first evidence of which is finding it necessary to break Svadhyaya into three separate posts. We’ll see what happens when we get to Isvara! The second evidence to follow:)
Svadhyaya – Self-study: study of the Self, study of the self, study of oneself, study by oneself
Svadhyaya 1 ~ Svadhyaya as Silence
With prior yamas and niyamas, we’ve been working with a lot of our patterned thoughts, words, actions, ways of seeing and being in the world. Working towards cultivating those in a direction that create the most beneficial relationship with the world and all beings. Svadhyaya is the stepping off point, a shift from that kind of work, or perhaps more aptly, a broadening. Instead of focusing on our likes/dislikes, cravings, attachments, habits, reactivity exclusively, we are now looking beyond/beside/within it.
Recently Davidji gave a dharma talk related to the new Jivamukti t-shirts. On the front are the words “I AM”. He asked us, what is on the back? For him, it’s “David”, for me “Jen”, for you “Your name here”. The previous yamas and niyamas can be seen as practices cultivating the “Jen” side, svadhyaya asks us to investigate “I AM”. And since we’ve spent the majority of our lives getting to know the back side of the t-shirt so well, a lot of svadhyaya is evening the scales with the “I AM” side.
As Rodney Yee said, “Suspend the knowing, the karmic history – the patterned ideas of you. To make space for you.”
In asana practice, we start off focusing and spending so much time on physical body alignment. After a while, we get comfortable, we feel safe in the strange poses, and we begin to investigate our mental habits, our fidgets, our reactions and emotions. When we begin to feel comfortable and safe within this level of exploration, we study our breath and the energy exchanges of the subtle body. After that, we go one level deeper still – and that’s the level of svadhyaya. It’s like we’re at the eye doctor, and they flip between two perspectives and ask “Is 1 or 2 clearer?” you respond, and again they flip, “Is A or B clearer?”, again “Is A or 2 clearer?”. Except we’re our own eye doctor, and keep evolving through clearer and more evolved perspectives. We’re working towards seeing ourselves at a level that is all “I AM”, and “Jen-ness” is quiet. The amazing part of this is that when I can really be with “I AM”, then my “Jen-ness” becomes more and more brilliant.
Rodney Yee also says, “If you can’t relax, you can’t hear more than one voice at a time.” Whether in our own minds, or in the room we’re standing in, we know from personal experience that the loudest voice we hear is not always the one we want to listen to. So when we practice asana, pranayama and meditation, we’re moving towards a kind of relaxation where the eager, well-meaning, but loud and insistent Jen voices quiet down, so I can hear the voice of “I AM”.
Recommended practices for this work: restorative asana, pranayama, and nadam meditation