Whole Life Magazine

August/September 2015

Issue link: https://digital.copcomm.com/i/548772

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Page 17 of 43

By Kaci Yoh T he Indian sage Patanjali wrote the Yoga Sutras—a sacred text outlining the path to self-realization—more than two thousand years ago. The Eight Limbs of Yoga are the most commonly recognized piece of the Yoga Sutras. In the Eight Limbs of Yoga, aspiring yogis will fi nd step-by-step instructions on how to live a more fulfi lled, meaningful life. The yogasanas, or yoga postures, practiced in yoga classes of the West are just one of the Eight Limbs. The second limb of Pantanjali's system contains fi ve internal observances, called niyamas. The niya- mas direct students to turn inward to create contentment and self-knowledge. The fourth niyama, svadhyaya, relates to self-study. By study- ing the self, one recognizes how karmic conditioning affects his or her life. Imagine a woman who is afraid of dogs. Because she has not paid attention to her karmic conditioning, she knows she doesn't like dogs, but she doesn't understand that she doesn't like them because she is scared. She sees a dog during her morning walk, and her mind automatically and unconsciously sends fear signals to her body. Her muscles tense, she starts walking faster and moves away from the dog. Anyone in the seer role, like a person walking toward her, understands she is afraid of dogs from her body language and movement, though she, in the seen mode, may not recognize her fear. By paying razor-sharp attention to self, one can begin to discriminate the path to liberation from the ego. The more you ground into your authentic self, the more you become the seer rather than the seen. You begin to rec- ognize patterns, fears and behav- iors that prevent you from evolving. You turn the key in the lock on the treasure chest of your true being. A student of svadhyaya is a curi- ous, compassionate observer. There is no place for judgments or criticisms in this practice. The goal is to develop fo- cused attention on the workings of the mind and body. With practice, students learn to soothe the grasping, unconscious mind. Over time their inner voices strengthen and they crystallize their true desires. In addition, students of svadhyaya recognize their faults and limitations. Embracing these imperfections rather than smothering their existence establishes a log- ical base from which to grow. For example, someone who recognizes that calling her insurance company makes her feel upset can utilize tools to control her anxiety and an- ger much better than a person who denies or covers up these upsetting emotions. Svadhyaya also refers to studying the sacred texts of other seers and sages. Using wisdom of others as a tool, students of self-study construct guidelines on how they would like to inter- act with the world. Through observing their current actions and thoughts without judgment, they learn where they excel in these pursuits and where they need to grow. Just as yoga classes are a safe place to explore the body, med- itation is a safe place to explore the mind. Sitting quietly and fo- cusing on the present moment allows one to move into the role of seer. Most yoga classes end with savasana, or corpse pose; this pose is also an ideal setting to practice self-study. In either of these postures, let the breath quiet the running monologue of the mind. Lists of errands, opinions about self and judgments of others are distractions from the liberation of svadhyaya. Just be still and breathe. After settling into a seated meditation posture or savasana, notice if you are holding tension anywhere in your body. Common places include the legs, shoul- ders or jaw. This noticing is svadhyaya in action. Because of karma, or past conditioning, most people clench or tense in the same areas when facing stress. Consciously relax areas of tension by focusing on the body, expanding on the inhale and relaxing further into your yoga mat or meditation cushion on the exhale. Next, cultivate awareness of these areas outside of your practice. You may notice you constantly hold tension in particular areas of the body, such as the legs, shoulders or jaw. When you no- tice, inhale expansion and exhale grounding by feel- ing your feet plant further into the fl oor. Remember your work is to become the seer, and judgments and opinions are not useful in this practice. It will take time, but the mind will slow down, the body will unravel and, with practice, become quiet. Kaci Yoh is a freelance writer, editor and 200-hour level yoga instructor. Svadhyaya: Self-Study for Liberation BECOMING THE SEER yoga 18 wholelifetimes.com

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