One of the eight limbs of yoga, which I follow as an Ashtanga student, are Niyamas. These are commitments to ourselves. There are five Niyamas, one of which is Svadhyaya – Self Study.
Svadhyaya explains that it is important for us as students of yoga to maintain a regular self-study. That the lessons we learn in class must be applied to our lives if one wants to heal or move past whatever it is that troubles them (be it pain or mental anguish). Our ability to sit with discomfort during practice is an common example of one such lesson. Discomfort may manifest itself physically in the back, the hips, cramping in the foot, pins and needles. But it can also present itself mentally where we feel agitated, bored or frustrated.
Yoga teaches us how to sit with this discomfort and work through it. To delve deeper and challenge what is going on for us. Sometimes we prefer to live wearing rose coloured glasses, but this way of living can never lead to the meaningful, healthier lives we seek. For it is through adversity, through pain and vulnerability, that we become stronger and wiser. Not through ignoring or avoiding it.
If I’m holding an uncomfortable posture, which is often anything related to my back or left hip, and I am agitated in that posture, then I look for the knowledge in this. It says a lot about my state of mind at the time. It could be that there is too much on my plate and I need step back and give myself more space to breathe. It could be that there is something worrying me that I’ve been suppressing and really should address, as confronting as it might be. And then there are other days where I don’t feel the same agitation even though my back may still feel tight or the hip sore. But I have allowed myself to just Be. I am totally present to my body and the moment. There is a lesson here also..
When my teacher is encouraging me to connect with my breath, whilst I may be excellent at doing this in a yoga class, the real challenge comes in trying to maintain this same awareness outside of the classroom. When things feel like they’re falling apart around me, do I lash out, over react, hyperventilate and lose all control, or do I remember to breathe, pause and centre myself before responding?
Going to class, or practicing at home, is one example of self-study. But to truly incorporate the lessons learned on the mat is through a daily practice. Yoga is not a quick fix to make people happier, healthier or more aware human beings. Rather, yoga is a tool that can show us a door to this happier, healthier, more aware life we seek. It is up to us if we choose to walk through it.