The literal definition is “study the Atman”. In Sanskrit, Atman means soul, Higher Self, eternal Self. In yoga student speak, it means “that part of us that is connected to All” or “self-study”, and when we utilize the practice of witness consciousness, we have the opportunity to observe how our smaller self is pulled here and there by desires and circumstances, while our True self remains unmoved, undeterred, uninvolved.
By observing the self through the witness, behaviors, beliefs, self-concepts, and resistances can be revealed. And the gift of having them revealed is that we get to decide if they take us closer to or further away from that silent, easeful place where life becomes a little less of the violent swinging from side to side, and we spend a bit more time residing in the middle. When we are in witness, what we observe is unbiased and un-judged, clear from past conditioning or expectations of the future.
Just today, I had such cause to bring this niyama into practice. Late last night I received a text from a private tutor client asking for help today after school. Due to my sense of duty to help people, and kids in particular, and my seemingly preoccupation with earning every penny possible (brought on more so with my current living situation), I agreed to meet with the student. I spent a few hours last night trying to teach myself the subject matter. I did not major in mathematics, but in the science of teaching. In the past, I’ve been able to wing it, teach myself bits of the material, spend time with YouTube, and have mostly been able to offer at least some assistance. However, I don’t think that’s the case this time. I woke up this morning, as they say, “on the wrong side of the bed”. Before I got up, when I usually set my intention for the day, I became worried that I wouldn’t be able to teach myself what I needed to know in the little bit of time I had available before seeing my client and teaching the concept to him. I texted the parent my concern. The more I thought about it, the more I became convinced that I wouldn’t be able to do this. And that’s when the tears flowed and the anger bubbled up. I felt I “should” know the material. I felt that I “should” be able to do whatever the student needed me to do in order to help him. How eye-opening and humbling to admit that I don’t know something and may not be able to help. In a million other instances, I’ve tried to help others yet they didn’t ask nor required my assistance. Now, when I’m asked, I have to admit that the knowledge is absent. This, of course, overflowed into everything else that my ego believes isn’t working in my life and I gave myself a whole 2 minutes to be upset. This realization came to me a little later.
In my most recent study of the Atman, I see the behavior of always trying to be what everyone else things I should be, and I become upset when I didn’t live up to my own standards of being what everyone else needs. Whether or not I’ll be able to teach myself the concept or not, I’ve learned today to be aware of that behavior, of those thoughts that I can do whatever people ask of me, when in reality that isn’t the case. The same goes for postures on the mat, for thoughts we continue to have, for ways that we interact with others. If we can step back and observe the situation through the witness, then we have a chance to allow the Higher Self to shine through.
How do you practice swadhaya? As with all the other yamas and niyamas, I’ve written a poem and published it in my yoga project titled Yogis All: A Journey of Transformation, Volume I, which can viewed on my website: www.myjoyenterprises.com