Yoga in the form of action has three parts: training and purifying the senses (tapas), self-study in the context of teachings (svadhyaya), and 3) devotion and letting go into the creative source from which we emerged (ishvara pranidhana). – Yoga Sutras 2.1
Last time, I talked about tapas, the first part of kriya yoga (yoga in the form of action). The second part of kriya yoga is svadhyaya. Svadhyaya means a study of the self — a thorough study of oneself and thorough study of spiritual texts.
One of my favorite writers is Dogen — poet, philosopher, and founder of the Soto school of Zen. Dogen wrote: “To study the self is to forget the self. To forget the self is to be actualized by myriad things. When actualized by myriad things, your body and mind, as well as the bodies and minds of others, drop away.”
What happens when you try to study your self very closely? It’s a little freaky. Is your self bounded by your skin? Does it extend out to where your attention rests? Did it begin when you were born? When you became conscious of yourself? Was your childhood self the same self you are now?
Are your ever-changing thoughts and emotions “you”? By studying the self, we see the self as shifting and, ultimately, empty. This can be a bit frightening (abinivesha, anyone?), but the alternative is to hold tight to fixed ideas and grasp at a constancy that is eternally elusive.
Daily Ashtanga practice is a tool to study the self. Is your mind separate from your body? When you confront a difficult or frightening posture, how do you react? What are you? Are you the poses you can do? The poses you can’t? Your reactions? Your breath? Body? Mind? What are you, moment by moment?
During practice, every inhale, every exhale, day after day after day is an opportunity to study the self until your body and mind drop away.