Yoga Sutra 2.44 is short and sweet: Svadhyayad istadevata samprayogah. Translated, it means, “By the study of spiritual books comes communion with one’s chosen deity.” But like so many others, this sutra has a deeper meaning than what is presented in just a few words.
If taken at face value, the sutra says that by studying spiritual texts, we find our connection to the larger universal energy. Once we see the larger connection, our true selves are reflected back to us. The practice of yoga aims at helping us connect to the universe and see the world for what it is.
Our minds are certainly creatures of habit. Our thoughts can so easily become ritual or second nature; we may not even realize it. Our vision and thinking can become clouded, not letting us see the world through clear lenses. It can be hard to break habits or think differently. This sutra suggests that by reading scriptures or spiritual books, you may be exposed to a new idea, or a different way of looking at things, that can get you thinking and change your perspective. You may also find things to challenge you or to contemplate on. It’s in that way that studying texts can help you grow and learn more about yourself. This study will help you connect with energies outside of your own mind.
This study, however, doesn’t have to be applied to solely spirituality. Commonly you will see svadhyaya referred to as self-study—it’s in the word itself. I have seen a few translations, but they are all fairly similar. The first part of the word, sva, means “one’s self.” The root dhya comes from the word dhyana, which means “meditation” (one of the eight limbs of yoga). Ya can also mean “joining or attaining.” When broken down, then, svadhyaya means “meditation on the self.”
Svadhyaya is a journey inward, a road to self-improvement. It asks us to look honestly at the self—our mind, ego, personality, and physical body. In svadhyaya, we find an ongoing process of turning within. We inquire into how we treat others and ourselves. We learn to observe ourselves without judgment. We see things clearer, including ourselves. We build awareness.
We can participate in self-study through various means: reading spiritual texts as the sutra notes, reading self-help books, going to therapy to embark on self-exploration with the help of someone else, starting a daily meditation practice, writing, or cleaning. Anything you take on to raise your self-awareness serves as svadhyaya.
Once we are able to identify words, thoughts, or actions that do not serve us, we can let go of them. Imagine wearing a pair of dirty glasses and finally getting a tissue to clean them off. Suddenly, you see the world clearly. That is the practice of svadhyaya.
The goal of this practice is to cultivate awareness. No matter how we get there, without personal awareness, we are moving blindly through life and will not be able to connect to the deeper, greater universal energy. It’s in that blind state that we suffer and cause others to suffer. Once we understand more about ourselves, we can act from a place of focus, clarity, and kindness—and we can continue to move along our yogic paths.