Sutra 2.44: svadhyayat ishta devata samprayogah
By study (not necessarily nor exclusively) of scriptures, and of oneself, the consciousness is united with the desired or loved divinity. This divinity may well be a “luminous” internal transmutation-experience or its externalised psychic manifestation, or “an enlightened being”. Translation and interpretation by Swami Venkatesananda
Svadhyaya, self-study. This is the action from which yoga springs.
Or, at least, that’s my take on it.
What is self-study? It’s an inquiry into your whole person, physical, energetic, mental, and beyond. What is beyond? That’s a question that yoga, like science and philosophy, explores. As individuals that exist as part of a potentially infinite expanse, getting to know this expanse is part of getting to know of oneself.
If you’re thinking, “gosh, now I need to understand the universe to get a grasp on my sense of self?!” just take a deep breath and let that thought go. You are part of the universe, remember? I still remember Michael Jackson telling me to start with the man in the mirror, and by golly, he was right about that. Starting with yourself will inevitably lead you to deeper understanding of –and clearer action regarding– what you may currently perceive to be outside of yourself.
So let’s talk specifics. How do you start this self-study?
It might feel a little bit like how you would take on a yoga practice. Most of us in the West start with the physical (asana) practice because we have a goal for our bodies — recover from injury, lose weight, gain mobility, feel better, etc. Through this, we tend to learn, in different ways and at different paces, that when our bodies feel good, our minds work better and our emotions don’t ensnare us so readily. We begin to discover stillness and a quiet that lets us begin to ask questions and hear the responses.
We start to accept our bodies as they are, even when they change. We care more about what we put in our bodies, and whose company we keep, because we feel more strongly the effects of every interaction. From there, maybe we get curious about those interactions –how do they work? What is this electricity that makes us alive? Does the electricity keep going even after the cells die and change into other particles?
I say “we” because though the path of self-study is wholly individual, in reducing the journey to such overarching snippets, those individual paths converge on similar traits and look very much the same from afar. I take comfort in this. That somehow, we’re all going through more or less the same process and we’re in this together. Electricity is electricity, and particles are particles. Our vastly varied stories stand testament to the need for a study of self taken by the self, to know this electricity and these particles in their manifestation as you, which remains unique from their manifestation as anyone else.
The experiences of others as passed on through books and teachers can help us learn and discover, but ultimately, it’s up to each of us to look inside on our own. That’s where we connect to our stillness (samadhi) and clarity of self (viveka).
The yogis say that from there, anything is possible. I believe them.
Hari om tat sat!
Experience your true self and bring it into every moment of your living!
The Yoga Sutras are a classical text on yoga–a guidebook of sorts.
Each week, 216 teacher Esther Palmer dives into one of the sutras and we let it take us where it takes us.