The first time I heard the word “Svadhyaya” I immediately thought of “The Divine Secrets of the YaYa Sisterhood,” the 1996 book by Rebecca Wells that was turned into a movie in 2002. It seemed a natural leap, a reasonable thought progression . . . Svad-h-ya-ya. It was that YaYa part that swept over me like a wild banshee cry.
But of course, Svadhyaya has next to nothing to do with the YaYa Sisterhood. Unless you consider the book’s plot line that “the tangled beauty of imperfect love, and the fact that forgiveness, more than understanding, is often what the heart longs for,” ties into the self-study that is Svahyaya. That’s a lot of self-examination for a southern tale, and may not be that far off for the YaYa Sisterhood!
In yoga, Svadhyaya is one of the five Niyamas (there’s a YA in there!), along with Saucha, Santosha, Tapas and Ishvara-Pranidhana. And the Niyamas are one of the eight limbs of yoga. I hope you’re keeping count of all these numbered items for which yoga and many oral traditions are famous! A lot of YAs being laid down too.
The short description for the yogic practice of Svadhyaya is that of self-study. A book that is better suited to the “YaYa’s” of yoga, and one that is all about self-study is “Pilgrim of Love, The Life and Teachings of Swami Kripalu,” compiled and edited by Atma Jo Ann Levitt. It begins with the epigraph, “To pilgrims of every path, and especially those willing to be fools for love.” This path to love is very serious and is far from foolish.
Pilgrim of Love teaches us much about Swami Kripalu, whose name was given to the Kripalu Ashrams in Pennyslvania where he taught yoga from 1977 to 1981. (In 1983 the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health continued the legacy in Stockbridge, MA, its current location). Swami Kripalu followed the path of Kundalini yoga, a branch of yoga sometimes referred to as the yoga of awareness.
In this book’s deep dive into the life and teaching of Swami Kripalu, there are many lessons for the study of yoga and yogic philosophy. The chapter on “My Guidance to Disciples,” he shares the message given to him by his teacher Gurudev. It is a series of 14 guidelines meant as a summary for yoga Sadhana. As with many of Swami Kripalu’s teachings, the guidelines are not for casual yoga participants, is intended for serious yoga practitioners, and goes well beyond the yoga postures that dominate western yoga.
The guidelines start with something common to most spiritual practices, “#1. Love all living beings, do not hate anyone.” And end with #14. Read this guide every Thursday. Guides 2-13 range from the pleasant to extremely difficult. Like #7. If possible, take cold baths three times a day (… to maintain purity and piety of the body. Never sleep during the day, and so on), to the much more difficult #5. Initiates should have one pure and moderate meal a day with milk in the morning and evening. Do not eat meat. Do note use liquor, marijuana, tobacco, coffee, tea, or other stimulants. Ok. Cold shower. No coffee. I got this. Not. Even. Close.
One must stand in complete deference to a gifted teacher guiding us to “cross the ocean of samskaras and attain the supreme love of God.” We should not expect that a commodified life of sloth and torpor to usher us to the gates of Heaven, or to send us into immediate Samadhi!
Swami Kripalu’s guide relating to Svadhyaya is #12. As a source of self-study, contemplate the meaning of Shri Gnaneshvar’s Bhagavad Gita. Memorize lines 54 to 72 of the second chapter of the Bhagavad Gita. Chapters 12, 15, and 16 should also be memorized and recited every day. Recite Brahmacharya Bhavani (treatise on celibacy) every morning. Practice bhajans, and read and contemplate good books everyday. Never stop listening to the messages of pious saints.”
The second chapter of the Bhagavad Gita is about the Practice of Yoga and lines 54-72 are all about giving up attachments and investments in both craving and aversion. And the other Chapters 12, 15 and 16 respectively are titled in various translations as The Yoga of Devotion, The Ultimate Person, and Three Kinds of Faith. Memorizing and reading these passages everyday would certainly give one food for thought. Turning the spotlight inward with these passages is a lesson in self-study to examine our behavior in greater detail.
For all you Yogic YaYas out there, the following are a few links to other blogs discussing the Niyamas and Svadhyaya!