Patanjali is a man known in the yoga world as the patron saint of modern day yoga. He is the author of the Yoga Sutras, an ancient text consisting of 8 different limbs (sections). These 8 limbs serve as an intuitive guideline to lead a purposeful life. Ethical values, breathing control, posture, spiritual discipline, sense withdrawal, concentration, meditation and enlightenment are expanded upon as the limbs that make up yoga. Contrary to what is portrayed in pop culture, the physical practice only consists of 1/8th of all that yoga encompasses.
The second limb, Niyama, focuses on the spiritual aspect and self-discipline portion of yoga, which has five subcategories. One of the five subcategories, Svadhyaya as self-reflection, is one denoted connotation that this Sanskrit term takes. In action this word means self-reflection for self-improvement. The goal is to take self-inventory and reassess to improve.
However, Samskaras are the Sanskrit name for one’s psychological unconscious predispositions that impede self-improvement. Samskaras work as memory traces within the unconscious mind, resulting in impulse driven actions that turn into habits, which repeat. Think of a car in the desert: the more it goes around on the same path, the deeper the path becomes imprinted in the sand, therefore the easier that path is for the car to take. Samskaras work this same way.
If kept unaware, eventually Samskaras can even undermine the individual’s own free will. For example, you may be consciously trying to stand straight, but your habit of bad posture has left you with a permanent curvature of the spine. You went so long in the habit, unaware, that when you finally tried it was too late; the pattern too far imprinted. This is a physical example of how Samskaras work from within the individual against himself, if he remains unaware. It sets the foundation where human affliction is built; leading one to succumb to their predispositions, yet remain unaware that they are doing so.
How do you stop habit-forming patterns (Samskaras) that you may not even be aware of?
Start with the part of you that you are aware of. Your inner voice, that personal narrative that lives within is the key to everything.
The challenge is to recognize this voice as it is happening; the bigger challenge is to determine if it helps or hinders you. Svadhyaya is the result of exactly that, a deeper understanding of the self, taken from this assessment. What is your relationship like with this voice? If you start recognizing how your inner voice navigates you through your life, you may become more consciously aware.
How many times have you said or heard the sentence: “This always happens to me.” No. It is only through your own level of awareness, or in this case a lack thereof, that would bring you to assess a situation this way. If you are not making a conscious effort to observe the patterns you took to that place time and again, then it will keep happening over and over until you do.
The overarching theme is to avoid hitting cruise control on your life. What you aren’t looking for, you will never find. Svadhyaya is a path to lead one in a more enlightened direction. Life doesn’t happen to you, but without awareness. Observe, learn, and don’t repeat.