Swadhyaya – the importance of constant self-study


Today I was reading an issue of The Australian Yoga Journal (July 2013) which is filled with many enlightening and inspiring articles on how to live  a healthy, natural energising life.


In one article, entitled “Opening up to Love” by Helen Hawkes, she talked about a term I had not yet come across – Swadhyaya.


“Yoga practitioners are in a constant process of swadhyaya or self-study – the fourth niyama. Any activity that cultivates self-reflective consciousness can be considered swadhyaya – it teachers us to burn out unwanted and self-destructive tendencies…”


Although this specifically seems to mean self -study in ways of a spiritual quest/development I think that self- study and reflection is an important matter through aspects of life to ensure that you  are the best person you can be at any given time, to make life easier for you, and to make life more fulfilling for those around you.


I have always been a self-analyser, self-reflector, self-studier. Constantly I ask myself questions, how do I feel about something? Why did I do something, why didn’t I do something? What path am I on and am I happy with that path? Some people find me crazy to constantly be asking myself these questions and reviewing and analysing things in such detail, but by constantly reflecting on these things I see patterns that I might otherwise have missed, I bring to the for subconscious emotions so that they can be dealt with, I learn from the past. But it self-study isn’t just about asking question or reflecting on events – sometimes it is simply about giving yourself time to calm down, go somewhere quiet, give yourself time to breath and stop thinking about all the things you have to get done, and then in that space, see what comes to mind, what you start thinking about. That is also a form of self-study where you may learn things about yourself that surprise you.

Some people it may be because they feel that it is a waste of time, to take the time in their days to actually self-reflect. Others feel like this puts them in the category of ‘needing help’ (like a psychologist). But this process is something that needs to be intertwined into everyday life, so much so that it becomes natural. I’m not talking about being hard on ourselves or critical of ourselves at every turn,that will of course hinder us but we owe it to ourselves to try to look at things as unbiased as possible, the more we practice trying to reflect on our own behaviour unbiased the better we will become at it and this can be incredibly beneficial in our learning processes.

Keep a diary/journal, blog, meditate, or just give yourself some quite reflection time, even if it is just 5 min a day, reflect in a patient, understanding way, and don’t be harsh on yourself

From the age of about 11 I kept a diary, and still keep a journal. When I have a lot on my mind or significant things happen in my life I write them down and in that process often I discover more about myself, see connections or figure things out. And if I don’t , I still ease some of the weight off my mind knowing that it is written down and if I need to re-reflect on things at a later date it is written down instead of  just buried into my subconscious ready to re-emerge without warning or effect future events without my understanding. Yes I make mistakes but thanks to this constant process of swadhyaya I can see the benefits and learning from every experience so there is virtually nothing I regret in life – which greatly sets me free.

Self-study is also important for you to check that you are not stagnant – everyone should constantly be growing as an ever learning student of life. You should be able to look back on yourself and see positive changes, improvements, or developments/skills etc that you have worked towards, acquired or things you have overcome or understood that make you proud and keep you forever moving forward. If you feel like you are exactly the same person you were a year ago, then you need to be making more changes or bringing new challenges/options into your life.

The reason I wrote this post is because I know far too many people that simply do not want to self-reflect. They think that they know themselves but they don’t allow themselves a pause to reflect on their actions or journeys, they simply throw themselves into constant action and if there are things they are not so proud of or feeling things they can’t understand or say things they regret, rather than reflecting on the matters they would rather pretend they didn’t happen. They build walls and refuse to revisit this giving some excuse like the past is the past and we cannot dwell in it. Self-study is not the same as holding onto the past, if anything it is the opposite. Things happen to us in life so that we may grow and learn from them, but how can we learn if we just keep moving forward without a second beat?  This is not the way to growth or happiness. If you are already into the practice of self-reflection good on you, but if this sounds like something you don’t do enough, just try every day to think about how you went that day. Are you proud of the choices you made, the way you behaved? How are you feeling? Is it the same way you felt the day before? What changes can you make to set yourself in the right mindset for the upcoming day? Don’t get bogged down in this. Even to just write down one note for yourself, such as “I feel good about helping (name) today, I must make an extra effort to find new ways to help or encourage those around me” creates a link in flow of constant swadhyaya!