One of my favorite ways to begin a yoga class or my own practice to with cultivating the witness consciousness.
I find a comfortable seat and observe where the breath begins in the body, how it feels, and notice any sensations within the body without judgment or attachment. I imagine that I’m watching myself watching my breath like a fly on the wall, detaching myself from the experience as a non-judging witness.
This is useful in meditation, too.
How many times have you been sitting on your zafu, mala beads in hand, only to suddenly realize that you’ve been making a grocery list or rehashing a conversation for the past few moments? As my eyes are closed, it’s helpful for me to maintain that imagery of a part of my Self as a quiet fly on the wall, watching the thoughts of this woman sitting in meditation. If my Fly Self notices that her mind has wandered, I gently guide her mind back to her fascinating breath.
On a very small level, this is svadhyaya in action.
How To Practice Svadhyaya and Self Awareness
Svadhyaya translated directly from Sanskrit, can simply mean “study”. Patanjali lists svadhyaya as one of the five niyamas (observances or how to treat oneself), where it takes on the connotation of self-study; turning inward and observing your actions, reaction, emotions and habits.
This practice of awareness can give us more insight into our relationships, both with ourselves and others. We all have a friend (or a couple) who is at the mercy of his emotions and gets completely swept up in grief or anger. But what if we questioned that grief? What if we asked ourselves why we are so angry, why we are so affected by a certain situation? If your Fly Self were observing you, what would she say about the situation at hand?
The goal of self-study is to be curious about what we take for granted and recognize and release tendencies that aren’t useful. It can teach us to be non-reactive and non-grasping, and allow the process of letting things go a bit easier. It challenges us to look deeply into our essence and discern superficial ego from divine truth.
You can begin your own svadhyaya practice from pretty much any moment of your day. Taking a moment to ask:
- What are my intentions in doing/saying this?
- Are my actions and words coming from a place of kindness and compassion?
- How can I be more present right now?
While studying with Rod Stryker, we performed an exercise that involved facing a fellow practitioner, looking her in the eye and asking: who are you? She would then answer by saying what she is not.
- “I am not my job.”
- “I am not the number on the scale.”
- “I am not my yoga practice.”
- “I am not responsible for the actions of my friends.”
And it goes on. Eventually, you begin to peel back the layers. You are not your salary. You are not your friends. You are not the external factors. You are not your mind or emotions. So that leaves the question:
Who are you, really?
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About the Author
Raquel is inspired, challenged, ignited and balanced by yoga, and is honored to teach such a sublime practice. She started on the path of yoga in 2007 and realized few other things allowed her to connect with her body in a joyful, powerful way. Her first down dog led to countless others, and in 2012 she completed her 200-hr certification at Moksha Yoga. She leads creative and playful classes, linking breath with movement and incorporating breathwork and meditation for a well-rounded, comprehensive practice. She is grateful to Ashley Turner, Seane Corne, Rod Stryker, Aadil Palkhivala and many others for their teachings that influence her own practice.
When she’s not teaching, Raquel is a holistic wellness coach specializing in helping women cultivate nourishing relationships with their bodies. She remains passionately curious about yoga, wellness, tribal arts and indigenous herbalism, and continues her studies to better serve her students. A proud lifelong Chicagoan, Raquel also loves running, writing fiction, growing food and cooking with it, magical-realists, and mid-morning dark chocolate.