Get started in your practice by taking action

Yesterday we had a great group discussion on the topic of self study. Self study (Svadhyaya) is one part of Kryia Yoga or yoga of action. In the yoga sutras instructs the eager student to take action in three ways:

  • cultivate excitement for yoga (Tapas)
  • self study (Svadhyaya)
  • surrender to God (Ishvara Pranidhana)

Practicing these three aspects will lead to absorption and diminish the afflictions. The yoga sutras lists five afflications—the first one is ignorance (Avidya) and is the root cause of all sorrows. We can lessen our ignorance by cultivating correct knowledge through self study. Therefore, self study is a vital beginning step on the path of yoga.

Luckily, we have the asana practice to help learn how to cultivate correct knowlege. We can use any number of poses (simple or complex) to show us if our knowledge is correct. When we stand up in Tadasana (mountain pose) we look to our memory of the pose to inform us in the present moment. If we remember that the knees should be lifted then we make that attempt and then evaluate if we are successful in the attempt. We can determine through direct perception—looking down at the knees. Are the they lifted? Yes? No? If they are, then I know I am in correct knowledge. It’s asana as a fact finding mission.

Many times I have been in class with my teacher and she is giving asana instructions. I think I am doing what she says to do but then look down at my feet only to discover that I am not doing what I thought I was. This experience makes me think, “I wonder what else I am mistaken about?”

These are simple tangible examples of self study.

More examples of self study is when I examine my behavior compared to the five Yamas and five Niyamas (more precepts outlined later in the sutras). Today, at work was I truthful? Yesterday did I steal anything? Am I taking more than I need?

To sum up the student interested in cultivating a personal practice should first build up a zeal for the study of yoga and then begin to study herself by doing some simple asanas regularly. The results of these efforts are surrendered to the Lord / God / Universe / Higher Power (whatever language you prefer). The act of surrendering should not be forgotten as it brings a sense of satisfaction and contentment. And that encourages you to try again tomorrow.

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