Let’s talk about svadhyaya, shall we?
Svadhyaya is the fourth of the niyamas (which are the second anga of the ashtanga) and certainly the most misunderstood. Literally translated: self-study.
People bandy this word about in very fancy ways. On Facebook, on instagram, in blog posts. Very profound. They go on and on about deep, deep stuff…about looking inwards and observing themselves. About self-awareness, self-improvement, self-analysis, self…self…self…self…self. You name the word that comes next. They just talk about self.
Which is precisely what svadhyaya is not about.
In fact, svadhyaya is actually about study of scripture. About texts that bring you closer to God, to the Divine. It can be any text, whether Vedic, Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu…the god isn’t defined. Only the dedication to the study is.
How this concept has gotten so widely misinterpreted is anyone’s guess. Most likely because the people who are mistaken never read past the words “svadhyaya means self-study” to find out what that really means.
I mean, it makes sense that in our Western World, people would assume it means psychoanalysis. We live in a very ego-centric society. In fact, there is a good chance these people are discussing the concept in the first place as proof that they know a long Sanskrit word and can talk about it like any normal person can talk about Starbucks coffee or the price of gas. Ah…ego.
Keep in mind that all of yoga revolves around the concept of releasing the ego. So, why would the fourth of five niyamas (observations, which ascend from the base to the spiritual) be to exercise the ego? Answer: it wouldn’t.
The irony is not missed on the fact that so many people are posting about svadhyaya as the caption to a photo of themselves doing some sexy pose in a bikini.
Lucky for everyone, the real answer lies in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali…and if you pick it up, that’s svadhyaya.