Know Thyself (Svadhyaya)
By Joyce Englander Levy, September, 2012
We ran into Socrates the other day—you know, virtually—and he said, “Know thyself.” Turns out Socrates was a yogi. “Knowing oneself,” or svadhyaya, is one of the foundational practices of yoga. Svadhyaya means the study of ancient texts, as well as the study of oneself: When you delve into the wisdom of the ancients, and bravely dive into the depths of your own soul, an alchemical reaction can occur. And you just might form a lasting friendship in the process.
We met each other at the Yoga Shanti Teacher Training in 2010. Over the course of the year, Colleen and Rodney inspired us to bring the ancient practices of yoga into a modern context. The Richards (Rosen and Freeman), Manorama, and our mentors also talked to us about carrying a sacred baton. We were encouraged to keep a journal where we could reflect on our experiences in asana, pranayama, and meditation. Put simply, we were encouraged to practice svadhyaya.
Throughout the training, we learned that there is a method to sequencing that can leave you feeling whole. We were not unseasoned practitioners, but yoga can turn into contortion faster than you can say eka pada koundinyasana. Without the encouragement to develop an inner listening—to practice self-study—it may not be until your low back is screaming in pain that you pay attention.
We discovered that when you are firmly rooted in a lineage of knowledge while still maintaining the freedom to explore and reflect, amazing things can happen. When you practice inner listening, your unique voice begins to emerge. If you are under the guidance of nurturing teachers, you will feel encouraged to contribute your unique voice to this dynamic conversation that has been going on for thousands of years. Innovation is possible. The sacred baton is in your hands. It’s incredibly exciting!
The Yoga Shanti Teacher Training not only reshaped our bodies, but our lives. It helped us to create a foundation for a solid friendship, which soon evolved into a business partnership. Together we launched a website called Breathe Repeat, which provides resources for the modern yogi. We write a blog to encourage others to put a little east in their west and explore what it means to be a spiritual being in a material world. Manorama volunteered to write a Sanskrit Glossary for the site and Richard Rosen lends his insight on ways to honor our yogic roots while still being inquisitive and innovative.
B.K.S. Iyengar says, ”The techniques of yoga give you the opportunity to capture energy from the outside as well as from the inside and to use that energy for your personal evolution.” Our boy Socrates goes as far as to say, “The unexamined life is not worth living.”
Not worth living? What is so vital about the concept of self-study that would lead one of the greatest Western thinkers in history as well as a master yogi to extol svadhyaya?
Perhaps you should try it and find out. Honor the wisdom of those who have come before you. Learn to listen to the wisdom inside your own being. Once you are passed the sacred baton, where will you carry it?