Svadhyaya may be translated from Sanskrit as “one’s own reading” or “self-study.”
I interpret svadhyaya as two-fold, self-study of the physical and self-study of the metaphysical: thoughts, feelings, emotions.
If there is one thing that meditation and yoga has taught me, it is a very deep listening, a deep turning inward to know what my body wants, what it really needs, not a superficial craving, but a profound need.
I often read articles that talk of svadhyaya in the sense of exploring what is wrong: asking questions such as, “ Where do you hold tension?” “Why am I doing this?” While this is a valid study, why not try an exploration of asking, “What feels good?” “What does my body need at this moment?” When I have a cold, I instinctively know to get rest, drink tea and sleep. In a yoga class, I often ask students to “check in,” do a body scan. I invite students during class to move in a way that feels good. If I cue a “vinyasa” (plank, four-limbed staff, cobra, downward dog) and you want to do a child's pose, then by all means, do what your body suggests. Nothing delights me more than when I see someone wiggle and stretch in a way their body needs it. It often informs me as students set the pulse of what pose might come next. When I see a student skip child's pose and take a malasana (squat pose) to stretch out their back, I take a cue and offer that option to other students.
How about off the mat? Do you listen to your body tell you when you are sitting at a desk, habitually crossing your legs and your body says, “hey, our circulation is a little comprised here.” Do you roll your neck, sit up tall, let your shoulders slide down your back? Can you challenge yourself to listen deeply, especially when you are busy, taking a moment every 15 minutes to reset, reground?
It only takes a few breaths to reconnect with our bodies, calm our nervous system and recenter. Take your yoga home with you, to work and at play and listen to your body.
Theresa McLaren co-owns Art of Yoga. She has been practicing yoga for about 20 years and practicing life for many more.