On the eight- fold path of yoga, the two limbs of Svadyaya , or self-study are pratyahara and dharana. Pratyahara literally means to turn inward – the mind withdraws from the senses of perception. In the stillness of pratyahara, dharana – or concentration can be developed.
Svadhyaya is the fourth Niyama of Patanjali´s Yoga Sutras. The most common entryway into yoga practice is asana, or the yoga postures. It is a logical sequence; When we allow the body to settle down, the mind will also settle down. Most of us come to yoga physically stressed out, wound up and exhausted from it. The mind is restless and this manifests in the body as tension. We leave yoga classes feeling renewed, strong and lighter. Our bodies feel vibrant and we notice something that we can´t quite put our fingers on. Asana is the gateway into deeper exploration, and only scratches the surface of yoga practices. The yoga sutras feature a mere 3 verses on the asana, and I cannot express enough how important getting still and going inward have been in my own practice.
On this journey of self-study, we have decided to put space between stimulus and response. Slowing down the knee jerk reactions to life and reflecting on the mind, rather than react to it. Mind states give rise to behavior, and behavior is a reflection of mind states. There are skillful mind states and unskillful mind states. Unskillful mind states are ones that cause suffering. When we meditate, we remove behaviors and are able to look at mind states.
The following are ways in which to begin the practice of self study:
We start with balancing two basic qualities – An upright quality, and a relaxed quality. We sit, upright and alert, and with this alert quality, we relax as much as we can.
We ask ourselves what is the relationship between the quality of our attention, and the quality of our experience? Are we divided or undivided? Can we give our undivided attention to what we are doing? When we practice any skill, we get better at it. When we practice placing our undivided attention on what we are doing, it spreads into all areas of our lives.
Begin by sitting and becoming available to felt sensation in the body. What does it feel like in your body to put your undivided attention on sitting? What does it feel like to breathe, and simply notice that you´re breathing? It is important to remember that it is not about making things happen. The mind wanders. It isn’t about making the mind not wander. Rather, it is about aligning and constantly realigning with the present moment. While sitting and going inwardly, practice the following:
Allow your attention to rest in every cell of your body.
Allow your attention to ride the rhythm of your breath.
Allow your attention to find its home in this timeless moment.
Through his practices, Patanjali discovered that a wandering (divided) mind is an unhappy mind. In order to heal our relationship with ourselves, we have to first heal our relationship with the present moment. The beginning of the healing process is doing this with undivided attention.
Becoming empty of doing, we can just BE, and discover who we truly are.
To paraphrase Lao Tzu, We have to become empty of the self to find the self.
May your practices be continuous and steady, and may your efforts be of benefit to all beings.