Svādhyāya – Self-study Remembering who you are

by Manizeh Rimer |
November, 2023
sītā rāma sitā rāma
jaya sītā rāma

Sita and Rama, may you be victorious.

Svādhyāya, literally means one’s own study, Self-study, or “to focus upon the Supreme Self in all circumstances without any distraction”. It is Patanjali’s fourth Niyama and the Niyama’s are ‘the Do’s’ and the second step of his eight limbed system. Almost all of us have to put in effort and practice to get to a place where we can finally let go and experience our own true nature; who we really are. This effort is Svādhyāya.

In a large temple north of Thailand’s ancient capital, Sukotai, there once stood an enormous and ancient clay Buddha. Terrible storms, changes of government and marauding armies had come and gone but the Buddha endured. One day the monks who tended the temple noticed that the statue had begun to crack. After a stretch of particularly dry and hot weather, one of the cracks became so wide that a curious monk took his flashlight and peered inside. What shone back at him was a flash of brilliant gold! Inside this plain old statue, the monks discovered one of the largest and most luminous golden Buddhas ever created. The Buddha had been covered in plaster and clay to protect it during times of conflict and unrest. In much the same way, we also encounter threatening situations that lead us to want to protect ourselves and cover up our own essential nature. However our innate nobility wants to come shining through no matter how hard we try to hide it. How, then, do we remember who we really are?

Something that has stayed with me since teacher training is Sharon’s voice reminding us that “Yogis are both radical and practical”. Radical because we want to get to the root of the matter. Practical because we want to know how to do it.

At the root, all Yoga practices are a form of Self-study. They reveal to us who we really are. That we are spirit, soul, Self with a capital S, or as John Coltrane experienced through his music, we are A Love Supreme. If you have not had glimpses of this, you likely would not be reading this.
So how do we remember? Literally, how do we re-member, or put ourselves back together? The Yogi’s answer is Svādhyāya. We study ourselves through the various Yoga practices and they, in turn, reveal to us our true nature.

The physical practice reconnects us to our body and helps us not to get too attached to it. The practice reminds us that we are more than our body, with all its potential aches, pains and eventual decay and death. We cannot get around the body ageing, no matter how much botox we may throw at the problem. I remember giving David an adjustment in Paschimottanasana. I was young and a little over-eager. He turned around and reminded me that we were not the same age and that he needed a little more time to get into the posture. I now know what he meant! Meditation helps us to remember that our thoughts are just that: our thoughts. And wow is it a minefield up there. It was found that the average person has about 12,000 to 60,000 thoughts per day. Of those thousands of thoughts, 80% are negative, and 95% are exactly the same repetitive thoughts as the day before. Nisargadatta Maharaj said: “The mind creates the abyss, the heart crosses it”. So with meditation practice, we become the witness (the Sakshi) to our own mind. How can we be our mind and observe it at the same time? Studying the ancient texts and the writings of realised beings reminds us that others have come before us on this path and that experiencing our essential nature is indeed possible for us in this lifetime. Chanting helps us get into the deep dark corners of our heart, where we may have buried feelings like shame, betrayal, guilt, hurt, and anger. It reveals to us our longing to be re-united with our Self. For me, chanting has been the most potent of practices.

And so these practices take us back to the root of who we are. Not our storyline, or our gender, or the colour of our skin, or how successful we are, but who we are underneath all of those layers. We remember that we are spirit and that we have a heart that has a vast capacity, like the ocean, and that we can take refuge in it. Or better said: Om Shri Krishna sharanam mama. The more we remember, the more we experience loving kindness towards ourselves (even if it is painstakingly slow!) and others. If we do not know our true nature, we may get stuck seeking validation from the outside, and this is a risky proposition at best. Inevitably, this remembering of who we are leads us to want to act and uplift other beings in whatever way we can. It is the open and tender heart that has the capacity to transform the world. We begin to embody Lokah Samastah Sukhino Bhavantu.


Essay taken from Sharon Gannon’s Book Eternity is Happening Now


Teaching Tips

1. Ask yourself what about this topic matters to you most? What have you learned from your own study of self? How has it made a difference in your life? Start here as you think about what you want to share on this topic.

2. Teach different Metta (loving kindness) practices – first to self then to others.
You can use the following simple phrase to self, or create one if your own:
May I find peace
May I find ease
May I suffer well
May I be happy

Then to the person you dedicated your practice to:
May you find peace
May you find ease
May you suffer well
May you be happy

And finally send it out wider:
May all find peace
May all find ease
May all suffer well
May all be happy

3. Chant any of the Kirtan chants in the Jivamukti chant book. Encourage students to offer these chants to themselves, then someone they love, and then send it out to the world (see attached video to learn the suggested chant). Sita Ram is always a good mantra to bust the heart open and reconnect with yourself. The story of Sita and Ram is a reminder of the power of unconditional love to conquer all else.

4. Chant Om Shri Krishna sharanam mama and explain in your own words what it means to take refuge in your own heart.

5. Read from the great teachers who inspire you to remember who you are. Sharon Gannon & David Life, Nisargadatta Maharaj, Shri Brahmananda Saraswati, Ram Dass, Jack Kornfield, Pema Chodron etc. Read from the Yoga Sutras, the Bhagavad Gita and especially the Upanishads, or other ancient texts, that shed light on our true nature.

6. Emphasise back/bending in your teaching of Asana. Explain that backbends are difficult because they help us to practice staying open-hearted no matter what comes our way.

7. Break down and teach Pincha Mayurasana. Peacocks relate on the level of soul, not personality.

8. Read poetry that helps people get in touch with their innate goodness, wisdom and true nature: Walt Whitman, Kabir, Hafez, Sharon Gannon, Mary Oliver, Maya Angelou etc.


If you would like to sing and play the chant of this FOTM on the harmonium, click here.