Is Self Study Selfish?

Swadhyaya or self study is one of the five Niyamas (personal disciplines or observances) from Patanjali’s eightfold path and frankly, the point of Yoga! 

There can be a tendency in the west to refer to self-study as selfish, self-involved navel gazing. For others, it can simply be a case of not wanting to go ‘there’. Indeed, the practice of Swadhyaya can be downright uncomfortable at times but essential for our own growth if we want to move beyond those habits that follow us round like bad smells.

The definition of insanity is to repeat the same thing over and over, expecting a different result. How many of us have unconsciously repeated the same old patterns after trying desperately to do anything but (like picking emotionally unavailable partners - guilty!)? Unless we learn to truly understand ourselves and our underlying thoughts and beliefs, our actions and behaviours will continue to reflect what’s going on in the shadows.

Lao Tzu said ‘he who knows others is wise; he who knows himself is enlightened’. I’m sure he was referring to women too when he said that. None of us are perfect. We all have desirable and less desirable qualities. A light and shadow side. I once had a boss tell me that we don’t have weaknesses, just over-used strengths (which made me feel a whole lot better about my desire to control and manage every area of my life).

We can spend our lives trying to run away from our shadow. Alcohol, drugs, over-work, gambling, sex and shopping (or all of the above) help us numb the parts of ourselves we don’t want to face. Yet when we have the strength and courage to shine a light on our shadow, when we explore ALL aspects of ourselves with love, kindness and compassion, we discover that’s where the gold and freedom lies.

But we have to be willing to listen - really listen. Asana acts as a mirror allowing us to witness first-hand our own treatment of ourselves. Do we push, force, injure and compete or practice with compassion, acceptance, love and patience? Getting on the mat helps us to begin the journey of self-study. And it’s a lifetime journey - one to be approached with curiosity, kindness, patience, a sense of humour and at times a good therapist or friend. 

I once had a good friend tell me she loved all my quirky and (what I perceive to be) less desirable qualities. To have someone see you – really see you and still offer you love is incredibly powerful. Imagine being able to do that for yourself.  

I’ll be exploring Swadhyaya and more during my 12 week course ‘The Yoga Companion’. If you want to dive deeper into all things Yoga, develop a home practice and know your Yamas from your Niyamas then join me in February next year. Details coming soon.