The Self. A somewhat overwhelming concept when trying to define or encapsulate the meaning of it. There are so many avenues, ideas, philosophies and opinions regarding the Self, it truly is a bottomless pit. In saying that, yoga so graciously provides us with the tools to weave this concept into our day to day, but also to become aware of the Self that resides within us.
How would you define the Self? Have you thought about your own ideas of the Self and how that relates to your identity?
The Self can be described in many ways. In the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna describes the ‘Self’ (capital S) as supreme conscious, and connection to the divine within. The small ‘self’ can be observed in our personality, our ego, our identity and the way we relate to the world around us. My most profound introduction to knowing myself and attempting to understand who I am at my core, has come from practicing yoga. It began with the physical practice of āsana. Learning how to connect with and listen to my body has created a deeper sense of intuition and a trust in my gut instinct. More recently it has been through meditation and breathwork. Calming the nervous system, mentally letting the dust settle, and allowing the time to sit with myself is helping to create such depth of clarity into who I am, what I want and the way I can wholeheartedly show up in life.
Yoga Philosophy and The Self
Learning about who we are through the process of mental clarity, is introduced in the second verse of the Yoga Sūtra – yogaś-citta-vr̥tti-nirodhaḥ – often translated as: Yoga is the cessation of the fluctuations of the mind. Meaning we find Yoga (wholeness, union, connection to the Self) once the mind finds ease and stillness. Stilling the mind and observing our thoughts and emotions from a place without judgement cultivates an environment in which healing processes can take place. It enables us to unravel and resolve emotional and physical expressions of repressed experiences, or the parts of our identity in which we hide, shame or have friction with. By taking a step back, and not directly identifying with everything that goes on in the mind, we can create a stronger connection to the Self and accept all parts of our smaller self.
Studying the Self is a concept introduced within the Niyamas, the 2nd limb of Patanjali’s 8 Limbs of Yoga. Svādhyāya, svā meaning self and adhyāya meaning to study, is the process of gaining knowledge and understanding of the Self within, working towards ‘self-realisation’. Svādhyāya can be the study of ancient texts and wisdom such as the Bhagavad Gita, The Yoga Sūtra of Patanjali and various Upaniṣads. Yet a daily practice of Svādhyāya can be anything that is moving you closer towards yourself. Deepening the understanding we have of ourselves can extend to practices of meditation, journaling and connecting with nature. Anything where we can slow down enough to listen to our emotions and intuition, and therefore enhancing our relationship to the various forms of the Self.
Practice Going Inward
If there is anything I have learnt about understanding the larger Self within or my ‘smaller’ self, is that the constant distractions of the external world make it difficult for us to turn inward. We more often than not have to make a conscious, practiced and considered effort to tune into the complex areas of our being. Where can we do ‘the work’ when exploring all aspects of our identity? Where is the ego showing up? What shadow parts of our identity have we suppressed? Something to take away with you, is to think about the kind of mindful practices you can include into your daily routine that help you sink further into yourself. Breathing practices, meditation and journaling are all wonderful ways to start enquiring a little bit further. Listening and observing all the reactions that arise within you throughout your day, emotional, physical and mental. These reactions and sensations can all be used as tools to explore yourself deeper.
Last week I attended a workshop titled Pratyāhāra: the bridge between the outer and inner worlds taught by Sandy King. Sandy was sharing various teachings around the 5th limb of Patanjali’s 8 limbed path to liberation, Pratyāhāra. The workshop included theory, chanting, breathing practices, some gentle yin-based āsana and concluded with a long yoga nidra (guided deep relaxation). It was the ideal workshop to absorb if you’re interested in ways to draw the senses inward and dive deeper into yourself.
I’m looking forward to more workshops in the future and continuing my journey of The Self.