Swadhyaya literally means self-study. It is a method which can help you understand yourself through an inquiry into your thoughts, habits, feelings and emotions. Swadhyaya becomes a crucial element when you want to achieve any kind of transformation be it age reversal, stress-relief, weight loss or good health. It increases your awareness of the body, mind, efficiency and effectiveness as a person. Swadhyaya plays a very important role in breaking the vicious cycle of stress and distress.
In yoga, swadhyaya or self-study is an element of ‘niyama’ which means a code for personal discipline. The other elements of niyama include sauchya (cleanliness), santosha (contentment); tapa (austerity) and ishvar pranidhana (surrender to god). The niyamas can help reduce emotional and mental conflict and render the mind ready for higher practices of yoga. Swadhyaya helps gather your focus and energy and hence can be practiced by everyone for self-growth.
To practice swadhyaya, you can begin by examining every detail of your lifestyle-diet, exercise, sleep, work and understand what needs to change to have a healthy and fulfilling life. This can be easily achieved by keeping a diary on a daily basis of your strengths, weakness, qualities, likes, and dislikes, good and bad habits. Your holidays or vacations can serve as a period of swadhyaya. You could use that period to detox your body, cleanse your emotions and eliminate habits that don’t serve you anymore and thus develop a better understanding of yourself.
The different techniques to practice swadhyaya include breath regulation, chanting or the practice of mudras. Breath regulation can be achieved through the techniques of pranayama or simply by taking 10-20 minutes every day to observe your breath. Chanting means repetitions of a particular sound or mantra which aids in concentration of the mind. The breath plays a powerful role in fixing the mind in the present moment while chanting helps probe deeper into one’s consciousness. Mudras are hand; body or eye gestures that help channelize your prana or life force within and arrest unnecessary dissipation of your energies. These practices give you a fresh outlook on yourself and your life.
Psychology speaks of mind fulness which is a state of active, open attention to the present. You observe your thoughts and feelings from a distance, without judging them as good or bad. This helps you live in the moment and experience it fully instead of letting life pass by. You deal with one day at a time which helps reduce stress, anxiety, worry and avoid accumulation of toxic emotions. The science of yoga states that when swadhyaya is practiced every day, it is possible to fix the mind in the present. Swadhayaya also helps establish a sense of self-awareness which gives your body and mind a boost.
The yoga sutras (aphorisms) have spoken about a phenomenon called ‘sakshi bhav’. Sakshi means witness and bhav means mental attitude or disposition. You become a sakshi (witness) to your thoughts and actions without judging or condemning yourself. This attitude is the goal of swadhyaya and it influences your body, mind and energy in a deeply positive and nurturing way.