On our mats we put ourselves in challenging poses that require all sorts of twists, bends, balances and stretches and then we watch and listen to how our minds react. While we are outwardly using the physical body in demanding ways, the real goal is turning the mind inward. This is the practice of svadhyaya (self study), one of the five niyamas, or positive duties or observances that the yoga sutras teach us are necessary to live an aware and joyful life.
I remember years ago a friend at a yoga retreat told me she thought “self study” sounded blatantly self centered…”why should it always be all about me?” she asked. Though I was new to the practice at the time, I knew right away that she had it all wrong. Svadhyaya is not about making yourself the center of the universe, it’s about learning to see that the universe is the center of you.
Our minds are powerful filters that color our perceptions of the world keeping us from seeing our true nature. The ego keeps us distracted by the material world, always pulling or pushing at things we think we want or don’t want. Most of the time we are completely unaware of being stuck on this treadmill of desire and we become slaves to that “voice in our heads,” that narrates and judges everything.
Learning to go inward and becoming mindfully aware of our thoughts is an important first step toward acheiving a quiet mind, the goal of all yoga practice. For it is only a quiet mind that can perceive the underlying nature of our true Self. Yoga means “to yoke,” we practice yoga to bring together our individual awareness with that of infinite consciousness. Quieting the mind is an important first step.