The kriya yoga component of svadhayaya or self-study naturally resonates with the philosophical imperative to pursue an examined life. In the triad of tapas-svadhaya–isvarapranidhana-kriya-yoga (Pada 2, 1st sutra), self-study connects, the seemingly opposing directions of actively approaching the difficult and again actively surrendering. Self-reflection, in the yogic context, is the necessary intermediate key between engagement and repose, desire and release, friction and ease, heat and light, existential conflict and transcendental subsumption. Self-study, reflection, examination, all actions and events that return us to ourselves are moments when we decide to accept or endure.
In the Patanjali 101 course, Judith Lasater spoke of doing one thing a day that is difficult for us as an exercise of tapas or self-castigation, self-discipline, burning-desire (a jumping off the cliff moment). She also wisely warns that not everything difficult is helpful. The value of tapas “roughness” she explains is that it invites awareness (like an aching tooth and an inquisitive tongue). We decide to make our response to an experience helpful or hurtful. I like to think that awareness leads us back to ourselves to notice and decide whether that experienced difficulty is a practice of self-discipline (tapas) or self-surrender (isvara pranidhana). We’ve all experienced these moments. Many of us appeal to faith and submit to divine will, having done everything we could. Many of us push forward as an exercise of self-discipline and perseverance. In any given situation when and how we decide the tone of our energy is uniquely our own, the balance of discipline and surrender is uniquely our own. Learning when to engage and when to let go, finding our personal edge is a constant inner-dialogue, on and off the mat….. and uniquely our own.
Judith Lasater asks us to consider each pose as a question to ourselves. How does it feel to be in a forward fold, can I release even further? Instead of telling my body where to go and what to do, can I ask my body and notice the response? Can I be disciplined enough to practice a pose difficult for me and surrender to the attempt? How does the dance between self-discipline and self-surrender work for me?
An unexamined life may not be worth living, but yogic practice demands more…. the ability to let go. So difficult. Letting go requires discipline. Self-study holds us in that uncomfortable and unresolved human tension.
Wonderful second week of the course! Also very much enjoyed the conversation about cultivating contentment, another exercise of discipline (of not engaging in the negative) and surrender (letting go to what we cannot change).
I’m inspired by the importance of personal practice precisely to allow myself time and space for my own questions (poses) and aware responses. As Lizzie said, in order to find my “personalized dosage” of awareness, of svadyaya, self-study.
Honored to be “self-studying” with all of you,