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Understanding Yourself: The Yoga of Compassionate Self-Awareness

"Knowing others is intelligence; knowing yourself is true wisdom. Mastering others is strength; mastering yourself is true power." - Lao-Tzu

When it comes to our yoga practice, it’s easy to picture ourselves moving through various postures or even just simply sitting in meditation. Both these practices fit solidly into a daily schedule and have beginnings, middles, and ends. But yogic attitudes such as non-harming and contentment are more contemplative in nature and require a measure of self-examination. As a result, they tend to fall off our practice map.

Svadhyaya is one of these contemplative practices. It is often translated as to study one’s own self but we should keep in mind that the Sanskrit language is rich and often it cannot be easily and completely captured in one or two English words.

Ultimately, the aim of svadhyaya is that we discover the unbounded Consciousness that is the substance of our individual awareness. But more about that another time, let's start with baby steps.

Svadhyaya on the mat...

Studying our habits on the yoga mat can go a long way toward recognizing our habits off the mat too. The way we practice often reflects the way we go about life.

What posture do you tend to adopt, consciously or unconsciously, when life hits you? We can think about asana as a posture for life. Can you see how the physical practice can teach us how to maintain good posture, attitude, and good energetic alignment in the face of life's circumstances?

Similarly, studying the breath is key. The breath never lies. A short, shallow breath held high up in the chest is often a signal that we’re stressed or worried. If you notice your breath resembles this, investigate it with kindness and look to recognise and allow the reasons behind it. As you do so watch your breath begin to slowly balance and deepen.

A suggestion...

Throughout the next few weeks, ideally randomly, you can use this self-study practice and ask yourself three questions:

  • what am I doing now?

  • what am I thinking now?

  • how happy am I right now?

Maybe set some random reminders in your phone to do so, and take notes if you can. Then go back and look at your notes when you have a few entries. See what your data revels about yourself...

  • how often are you not thinking about what you are doing?

  • what is for you the correlation of that with happiness?

  • how happy are you when you are mindful of what you are doing, versus when you’re not?

You might find out that is not so much what we are doing that makes us happy and content, but rather how fully we are attending to the here and now. See what can you learn about yourself through this!

May we get to know ourselves better,


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