Self-Reflection and Yoga
By Laura Hansen.
The code of yoga is codified in ancient Indian Scriptures called the Varaha Upanishads. The code includes correct actions or practices that lead to enlightenment (Patanjali, 1999). Prior to the practice of Asana, are the practices of the Yamas and Niyamas which serve as an ethical code and foundation for the practice of yoga. There are five personal practices or Niyamas, the fourth Niyama concerns self-reflection.
Svadhyaya means self study or an understanding of the God within ourselves. Feuerstein (2001) defines Svadhyaya as study and translates it from the Sanskrit as “own going into” (p. 247). This might mean going into oneself, going into the scriptures, going into your own feeling about the scriptures or meditative ponderings. This might also mean developing your own personal spiritual practice which could include anything from reciting prayers, meditating, reading sacred texts or interpreting sacred texts. Different people respond differently to varied methods of self-reflection and spiritual practice. The Niyama does not necessarily prescribe a specific practice of self-reflection as much as encourage some practice of self-reflection.
For the preliminary practitioner it is often helpful to work with another person who can help point the way towards truth. Nowhere is our denial system stronger than when it concerns ourselves; staring honestly at ourselves is often impossible at first. We tell ourselves stories about who we are and what has happened to us and often these stories become our reality. The mind and the ego are desperate to establish our unique importance and reluctant to understand our impermanence and unimportance.
Even experienced practitioners will often believe their own stories about who they are, where they came from, and where they are going. Without an objective observer to see us clearly, we can become very confused. With some practice we can begin to become our own objective observer and in this way listen to our own thoughts. I find it helpful to imagine that my thoughts are appearing on a computer screen, or popping out of a printer. I imagine that my thoughts aren’t being generated by me at all, but by some robotic creation. In this way I can look at my thoughts more objectively and do not need to become attached to them. For example:
Let it go,
Let it go,
“What are they barking about now?”
In this way, I can listen to my thoughts, without becoming attached to them. Instead of dwelling on the fact that I’m hot, I let the thought drift away. By trying to listen to myself objectively, I may begin to know myself more honestly. Self-honesty opens the door to higher consciousness.
Gandhi once said that he worshipped God as truth and spent his life looking for truth. Self-honesty is a very challenging practice and one that few people can ever do well. The Upanishads tell us that the truth is hidden beyond the veil of illusion (Maya) and that it is very difficult for us to see beyond this illusion. It is as if truth is camouflaged and we can only see it when we look beyond what our mind tells us we see. Seeing truth is a much more advanced practice than we might suppose and according to Patanjali leads directly to the final Niyama which is God consciousness.
- Feuerstein, G. (2001). The Yoga Tradition: Its history, literature, philosophy and practice, Prescott, AZ: Hohm Press
- Patanjali, Edited by Satchidananda, S. (1999). The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, Buckingham, VA: Integral Yoga.
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