Swadhyaya – Study of the Self

Swadhyaya (sometimes written ‘svadhyaya‘, or ‘svadyaya‘) is the fourth of sage Patanjali’s niyamas and represents one of the most important aspects of yoga. …


Sva refers to the ‘individual self’ and adhyaya means ‘study’ or simply ‘education’. The literal translation of this word then, is ‘self-study’, which has been interpreted in various ways.

Some schools of spirituality take swadhyaya to mean study of the sacred texts (scriptures). Yet the yogi understands this term in a broader sense. In yoga, ‘self-study’ goes beyond intellectual inquiry and implies an inner study of the self.

Through swadhyaya the yogi comes to understand the inner workings of his/her mind and uncovers his/her true nature and potential.

Yet it would be hasty and unwise to merely discredit the academic schoolwork as well. Many who set out upon a path of wisdom and understanding have a very vague and confused intellectual background of ‘spirituality’ and lack a clear grasp and broad perspective of the subject, which is essential for successful progress.

Thus, before embarking on a journey deep ‘within the self’, the student of yoga, as a natural course, must first make him/herself familiar with all of the concepts and teachings of this vast science of evolution, in order to have a proper and useful base of understanding from which to proceed on this perilous inner journey. All of the essential treatise that analyze the various branches of yoga must become known to the serious student. As I.K Taimni points out:

“In this way, he acquires the necessary knowledge of the theoretical principles and practices which are involved in the Yogic ideal. He also gets an idea of the relative values of the different methods and a correct perspective with regard to all matters connected with Yogic practices.”

– The Science of Yoga

The Yoga Texts

It is in the eventual reading of, and sincere reflection upon the traditional texts that the way is prepared for experiencing, through personal practice, higher levels of knowledge and awareness.

Contrary to the general opinion, these spiritual texts are not philosophical points of view only, but also instructions for experiencing new, higher states of mind. The depths of the truths set forth in these books have the potential to profoundly change the consciousness of the one who bends over them with due interest.

“Without Swadhyaya, there is no Yoga.”

– Smt. Meenakshi Devi Bhavanani

For the beginner, the idea of diving head-long into a bunch of scriptures and classical texts may be a lot more than they really had in mind when they thought about exploring yoga.

It’s true that this level of aspiration is one that will slowly develop for the one who indeed begins to feel more attraction and interest in the yogic life as they investigate it further.

It is also true that in the beginning some of these texts may seem to make no sense, perhaps especially to those with a Western cultural background.

Thus, at this basic introductory level, we needn’t delve too far into this matter, except to become aware that there is indeed a vast depository of resources available for the aspiring yogi, which, in due time, will gradually provide much in the way of guidance, understanding and illumination.

‘Academic study’, however, is limited. Alone it is only ‘theoretical’ and has not the power to take one very far on the road to transformation. One must really ‘experience’ in order to ‘know’. As the wise Swami Sivananda said: “A gram of practice is worth a ton of theory”…
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