Social Distancing = Time for Self-Study
Yoga practices ask us to turn inward, to do the inner work of examining and getting to know our own states of mind, our own consciousness -- our fears, our prejudices, our emotions, our thoughts, our judgments, our habits -- in order to transform ourselves. For such transformation to take place, we must be honest and objective in our self-examination. Yoga is an inside job -- no one can do the work for us. My teacher and co-founder of the Jivamukti Yoga method David Life says that yoga practices are not for people who are interested in staying the same.
Yet in many ways, both teachers and students of yoga can get habitual about how we approach our practice: for example, being really upset if someone else has rolled out their mat and "taken" our favorite spot in the studio or arriving to take class with a favorite teacher only to find there is a substitute. Or maybe we have patterns and habits around how we approach alignment in certain asanas. We might be habitual in the stories we tell ourselves about our ability or inability to
perform various asanas or to practice meditation. We may even have habits in the way we breathe! There are countless ways we can form habits around our yoga practices.
The challenging situation the world now finds itself in offers many opportunities to wake us up to our habits. It offers opportunities for us to become more mindful of our habitual ways of doing things and to consider how we respond to our routines being shaken and disrupted. Can we go with the flow, or are we resistant? Do we respond skillfully, or do we react in less than skillful ways to change?
Self-study is one of the practices of yoga. Svadhyaya is the fourth of the five niyamas, the personal practices that make up the second of the eight limbs of yoga as presented by the sage Patanjali. "Sva" means "one's own" and "adhyaya" means "study." Svadhyaya is the study of one's own self. We can use this time at home for engaging in self-study and self-reflection on our yoga practices as well as on our habits surrounding our practices (and on all the other areas of our lives that have been disrupted). To aid our self-study, it is beneficial to also study ancient scriptures and the teachings of yoga as these can cause us to more deeply consider our true nature and inspire us to be the best people we can be.
Some questions that we might ponder, reflect upon, and perhaps journal about:
*Why do I engage in yoga practice? What is my intention in practicing?
* What is TRULY important in learning yoga?
*What does my yoga practice mean to me? What do I value about my yoga practice?
*In what ways am I habitual with my practice? How do I respond or react when I can't do things in my habitual way?
* What is my relationship to my yoga teacher(s), to my practice, and to my yoga community?
* If I can't be at my studio, with my teacher, and with my community in person, how do I show up mentally, emotionally, and spiritually?
Master yogi B.K.S. Iyengar once said, "Live with disappointment. One day it will turn into an appointment." We may be very disappointed right now that we can't be at our favorite studios in person with our teachers and our communities, yet we have an unprecedented opportunity to use this time of social distancing, uncertainty, disruption, and change to engage in serious self-study and to transform our disappointment into appointment. Remember yoga philosophy teaches that self-observation is the way to understand who we TRULY are. In his book “The Path of the Yoga Sutras,” Nicolai Bachman says, “…self-observation gives us the power to convert old, harmful behavior into new, helpful action. The ultimate goal is complete self-knowledge, with the realization that we are a changing outer shell surrounding a pure, unchanging, inner light of awareness.”