Svadyhaya is the yogic process of learning that helps us let go and move forward in life. It is the process that stops frustrating patterns from repeating and turns painful feelings, events and situations into wisdom and the ability to encounter anything with effortlessness. Sometimes it is hard to let go. It can be an ending of a relationship, a death, an ending of job, an argument, or something that happened a long time ago. When something is painful it can feel like we’d rather reject it and push it away, we say “I wish that would have never happened,” or “I wish you would have never said that.” So how do we let go?
If we can take a look at what jewels we got from the experience, what gems did we take away, what did we learn, then we begin to let go of the emotional baggage, egoic attachments, and untruths. Once we see the truth, then it’s easy to let go of any untruth. These lessons that we take with us become like sacred fertilizer for the rest of our lives. They come through for us in life’s most challenging and important moments. In this way, when something painful happens it doesn’t take away from us and deplete our energy, we have the tools to actually transform it into nurturance for the rest of our lives.
Svadhyaya has many different meanings. It is the process by which a yogi takes up a practice of disciplining, focusing, and managing the teachings of the mind and the heart. Through svadhyaya we learn how to use the mind and the heart as a resource for deeper connection. It is the art of growth, the ability to let go and move forward, the ability to receive nurturance from challenge and pain, and the alchemy of turning the muck and sludge of emotion, inner demons, and the parts of ourselves that we don’t like–into our strengths.
- the memorization of ancient teachings
- to place in oneself – to take to heart – to put inside of oneself
- going into oneself
- self study – self consideration – self examination
Steps of Svadhyaya:
- Memorization of ancient teachings
- Taking the ancient teachings to heart and engaging in self examination, contemplating and reflecting… not simply memorizing and repeating. Conversations begin with oneself and we begin to connect with our deepest concerns… it is the process by which the mind and heart create thought and feeling and this fundamental connection between the mind, heart, and spirit.
- The fundamental connection is created–this is the way in which you find the inner deity, the experience of the divine in your own heart. What they call the “ishta devata” or personal experience of the divine. This is not a prescribed experience that is found in a book or explained by someone, it is YOUR OWN experience of it.
- You become so attuned to what you have taken to heart that your practices become spontaneous and effortless. You can just DO IT. It is beyond memory, you apply it right away, seems spontaneous and effortless, like second nature, but it is something that you have learned to do.
- You do it again and again, you re-member, you re-peat, you re-learn, re-collect, re-flect, re-consider. The lessons continue to grow and change and evolve. You do it again and again and again until you are so connected, so attuned to yourself, that you begin to reflect your true nature.
- Uninterrupted presence of truth that you have taken to heart: You are effortlessly and spontaneously reflecting your own true nature, your original, uninterrupted nature, reflecting the self… the BIG SELF, not the ego self. It is a practice of stripping away any untruth, of passionately living nothing less then a fully authentic life, and simultaneously a practice of developing the self.
- Passing on the teaching: how have you made the teaching your own? You share the lessons.
- There is always more there…you become entirely attuned to your own experience and able to receive more.
Tapah svadhyaya Isvarapranidhanani kriyayogah
– B.K.S. Iyengar
Tapah = Heat, burning, shining, ascetic devotion, a burning desire to reach perfection, that which burns all impurities, self discipline
Svadhyaya = self study, reflection of one’s own self, understanding oneself from the outer sheath, the body, inwards toward the inner self
Isvara = God, Lord of All
Pranidhanani = laying on, imposing, turning on, directing upon; profound religious meditation; surrender
Kriyayogah = yoga of action
Lakshmi Rising: A story of Self Study
Once upon a time, a very very long time ago, there was a very very grumpy sage named Durvasas. Durvasas has a habit of placing curses on those that upset him and he likes to create problems. All the gods, goddesses, and creatures of the forest stay far away from him and feel like they are walking on eggshells when they are near. One day, Durvasas, wakes up and feels happy, he is in a VERY good mood. Everyone notices and is delighted by the change. The celestial nymphs in the heavens see his happiness and one of them is so delighted that she descends from the heavens with a never-fading garland of lotus flowers and hangs it from his neck. This garland smells so good, its the kind of good that makes you a little crazy.
Upon receiving the gift, Durvasas, feels even happier and he is so pleased that he decides that he will give the garland of flowers to the next being that he sees. Low and behold, the next being to come along the path is none other than the Lord Indra. Lord Indra is the king of all the gods and goddesses. He rides up on his elephant with a whole parade of gods and goddesses following. Durvasas reaches up to Lord Indra and offers the never-fading garland of lotus flowers. Lord Indra looks down and he doesn’t know who Durvasas is and sees a scummy, scrappy, forest peasant and he takes the garland and then goes to throw the never-fading garland of lotus flowers on the ground, but before it hits the ground his elephant snatches it out of midair with his trunk and begins to wave the garland all around and then throws it on the ground and stomps all over it.
Durvasas has now gone from being the happiest he had ever been to being grumpier than he had ever been. He looks up to Lord Indra and says, “You have no idea what you have just done, you have just dismissed the greatest gift of all and for that I curse you and all of your gods and goddesses to lose your power.” Lord Indra looks at Durvasas and thinks, “yeh right, whatever old man,” and goes on his way.
Sure enough the sun begins to shiver, the moon, which had a beautiful luster to it, begins to fade, and all the gods and goddesses begin to lose their power. They are worried and they go to Lord Vishnu and ask him what they should do to regain their power? Vishnu, says that he knows what they need to do. He says that all the gods and goddesses must gather with their worst enemies, worst nightmares, worst foes, and their demons. (to translate this into real meaning… he is saying that you must gather the parts of yourself that you love and the parts of yourself that you don’t like so much) Then go to the 4 corners of the world (the north, south, east, west) and gather sacred herbs. Bring the herbs, and all parts of yourself, the best parts and the parts that you do not like so much, and throw them all into the great ocean of milk and then start to churn the ocean. (here the ocean of milk stands for the space of the heart and the churning stands for the practices of yoga). Vishnu says that as they churn, over time, an elixer will rise up out of the ocean…. this is an immortal elixer and when you take sips all of your powers will be returned.
The gods and goddesses say ok, sounds like a good deal and they begin. Through the churning some good gifts come and then comes a poison, the nastiest poison you have ever encountered. It is called the Halla Halla. It is so bad that just by even thinking of it, you are done. The gods and goddesses are surprised and upset and they go to Vishnu and say, “whats with this poison! You never told us that this would happen!” You can translate this part as… “When we started the practice of yoga we thought it would be all bliss, smiles, renewed power, and gifts… you didn’t say that we would encounter, confront, sometimes provoke ourselves, and come up against the hardest edges of ourselves!?” “Why didn’t you tell us?!”
Vishnu says, “Stop worrying about it, just keep doing your practices.” So in other words, you must continue your practice, even when it is hard. That you don’t stop when it is challenging. To practice means to keep going, against all obstacles, over a long period of time.
Lord Shiva , the great lord of yoga, comes and says “I will take the poison.” he swallows the poison but he doesn’t take it beyond his throat. He holds it between his mind and heart (this fundamental connection between the mind and heart is a huge part of svadhyaya… this is how we begin to learn, how we begin to grow, this is the connection between the teachings and taking them to heart… when conversations begin with oneself and we are connected to our deepest concerns… it is the processes by which the mind and heart create thought and feeling, that fundamental connection that gives us guidance in life). Shiva holds the poison there between mind and heart, between sky and earth, sun and moon, he hold it until it turns blue, and irradescent blue, and begins buzzing… he holds it until it bursts forth into sacred song.. the mantra of AUM. He transforms the poison… just like we do with the practice of yoga, we take pain and challenge and mistakes, and failures, and turn them into growth, learning, gems of wisdom and our strengths.
Then the surface of the ocean begins to froth and Shri Lakshmi rises up on a lotus flower. She is gifted with the never-fading garland of lotus flowers and all around her are bees buzzing with the mantra. Shri Lakshmi’s rising is symbolic of the emergence of the heart and truth through the practices of yoga. In this way, whatever we encounter, we can turn it into nurturance and instead of pushing it away, we can grow from it.
Yoga Sequence for Svadhyaya:
Apply lessons from Svadhyaya and Sutra 2.1, as well as paying close attention to the body. Be curious and go into feeling and investigation. Watch your minds pattern of thinking upon discovery. Feel your hearts reaction to your minds thoughts. Just observe, don’t go into acting and reacting based on what the mind’s observations are… observe as an outsider, the behavior pattern around each discovery you make. Notice the parts of yourself that you like and the parts of yourself that are more challenging and if your mind wants to “fix” things or upon observation, if it deems things as wrong or right, good or bad.
- Viparita Karani – Legs up the wall: observe your legs, one longer than other, one turns in more than the other, one foot pronates more than the other, one foot is wider than the other, does the pelvis tilt to side or is it heavier on one side?
- Tadasana – feel the edges of your sacrum, place your hands on your sacrum and turn your toes in, you should feel that the tailbone lifts up and creates more lordosis in the spine, drawing the vertebra in the low back closer together. You should also feel a horizontal spreading creating more space horizontally on the top back of pelvis. Turn your toes out – you should feel the tailbone drop down and the lowerback get longer and so there is more space between the vertebra and they are less crunched together. You should also feel that the buttocks muscles bunch up around the edges of the sacrum, causing the kind of tension that could be what pinches the sciatic nerve and causes pain. Now drop your arches, and you should feel the tailbone lift and then lift your arches and you should feel the low back extend and the tailbone drop down towards the floor.
- Stand in Tadasana with the feet pointing straight forward and the arches lifted appropriately to simultaneously get the spreading horizontally that the internal rotation gave you and the length of the tailbone and long low back that turning the feet out and lifting the arches gave you.
- Supta Tadasana with feet on wall: turn feet in and out and lift arches and drop arches and feel what happens to the low back as you do each action
- Dwi Pada Pavanmuktasana: observe whether one side of the back is longer one hip higher up, if the pelvis sits with equal weight on the floor, one knee higher or more forward, and one foot higher or more forward?
- Eka Pada Pavanmuktasana
- Supta Padangusthasana 1, 2, 3, and thread the needle.
- Tadasana with medium wide block between thighs… as high up as you can take it. Walk your feet as close together as possible so that the block pushes the femur bones out to sides. Let the floor of the pelvis relax and use the block pushing the femur bones out to feel the wings of the pelvis separate a little so the sacrum, if out of place, can slide down back into its place, or at least begin to.
- Fold foward into Uttanasana with block between legs. Let all the little muscles on edges of sacrum relax and soften.
- Down Dog – hang from ropes, take feet wide and turn toes in to spread low back
- Vira 1 – move edges of sacrum in and straight forward, keep tailbone down
- Salabasana – tailbone down towards heels and sacrum down towards floor
- Bhujangasana – feel floor pushing thighs upward and take talibone down to heels to extend low back and push edges of sacrum straight down towards floor
- Urdhva Mukha Svanasana – same instructions as for Bhujangasana
- Childs pose
- Savasana with bolster under knees and weight on belly. Long low back.