Swadhyaya and the Subconscious Mind
Remember Swadhyaya? No, not Aishwarya the Bollywood actress, Swadhyaya the yogic concept of self-study. Okay, maybe you don’t know either of them… fine.
All right, let me start from the beginning. Once upon a time, there was Yoga. Yoga was practiced as a way of life and the asanas (yoga postures) were considered the “tip of the iceberg.” Thanks to the popularization of physical yoga, the whole concept of yoga philosophy sunk like the Titanic (iceberg, Titanic, please get the joke). No love story here. No iconic scene “I’m flying! Jack!” No, plain sinking. That’s all.
Sorry, what I am saying may be a bit confusing but yoga is actually the big iceberg.
Yoga-Iceberg. Iceberg-Yoga. Getting it?
Hear me out! If you ask most people what yoga is, they would point to the asanas or yoga poses. They think it is merely about the physical positions. But yoga is so much more than just the poses!
At its core, yoga is a practical life philosophy of self-inquiry and observation. Asanas (the poses) are just one tiny aspect of yoga, actually 1/8 of the big picture. So that’s the reason why it is said that the asanas are just the very tip of the yoga iceberg.
Below the surface, underneath the water, is where you will discover the full experience of Classical Yoga (i.e. 7/8 of the big picture of yoga philosophy — no one can fight against the implacable and ruthless rules of mathematical logic).
The sage Patanjali — not to be mixed up with Master Oogway from Kung Fu Panda, although both are wise and gatekeepers to many of the legendary secrets of self-mastery — outlined an eight-step system to help those who are willing to go inward to be transformed into the best versions of themselves. This system is commonly known as the Eight Limbs of Yoga (Snow White and the 7 dwarfs, Yoga and the 8 limbs — just a simple mnemonic here).
The ultimate goal of yoga practice as taught by sage Patanjali is to make the jump to a higher level of consciousness and to transcend from the lower self to the higher self. Basically, you shift from a fat non-athletic Po to an awesome Dragon Warrior. It’s all about inner transformation and unlocking your internal energy.
So what about Swadhaya?
I’m getting to the point. “Patience you must have, my young Padawan.”
Sage Patanjali was a smart, advanced yogi. He did not invent yoga but wrote a great compilation, a body of wisdom, called Yoga Sutras. In this book, he explains a natural progression of techniques to train the body, mind, and senses for spiritual evolution. His secret recipe was to use the asanas to prepare the mind and body for meditation. Yep, the objective of yoga was not to perfect the poses; it was to sit still in meditation. I know it seems boring.
Patanjali was a genius who understood humanity inside out. He seemed to perceive that for some of us, sitting in meditation is a daunting task that will make us run like Forest Gump the minute it is mentioned. He was probably also aware that most of us when sitting alone with ourselves are just playing a remake of Fight Club in our heads. Therefore, to ease the process, he taught us a methodical yoga, a systematic approach with a different level of entry for everyone: physical, introspective, and intellectual people.
For the physical, he led us to the path of asanas or yoga poses, for the introspective, Swadhyaya (ta-dah!), and for the intellectual, a formula to decode like E=mc².
The book Yoga Sutras, Patanjali’s masterpiece, is an absolutely brilliant piece of work! It was very much on track with modern psychology. In a sense, this ancient teaching revealed that to transcend from the lower self to the higher self, we must first become familiar with our inner world. We must first acquaint ourselves with our mental chatter, inner talk, the world of our thoughts, emotions, memories, perceptions, and beliefs. That is where Swadhyaya comes into the picture.
Camera 2, please zoom in on Swadhyaya.
Oh! Swadhyaya, sweet gal! Stunningly intelligent and beautiful but sometimes also very mixed up emotionally and so complicated! Wait, am I the only one who sees her like this? Okay, okay, okay … objectively, she is all about introspection, self-awareness, self-knowledge, and self-reflection.
Swadhyaya can be defined as a witness-like attitude of our mental processes. It is when we can see things as they are: naked, clear, and free from obscurations. Shall we say this is the idealized and rosy picture? Yes! Yes, a million times, yes.
The truth is many barriers undermine self-insight: bias, misconceptions about ourselves, skewed judgments are the first stumbling blocks. Shall I go on?
Yet, our biggest barrier may be that much of our minds are inaccessible, hidden in the subconscious. In other words, even if we could go past the first stumbling block in our introspections, we will still be unable to access certain mental processes and attributes. We play on the surface of the water without knowing how deep the iceberg goes. Here comes the iceberg again. Guess who used that analogy to outline the difficulty of having direct access to the workings of our minds? Sigmund Freud. The first and perhaps the last guy who ever said, “We need to talk.”
According to Freud, the conscious mind that consists of all the mental processes we are aware of, is the tip of the iceberg. Moreover, by nature, our mental lives are unconscious like the majority of an iceberg hidden from view underwater. Freud claimed that it is hard or even impossible to tap into our own mental processes.
However, Freud might have missed one thing: yoga. It is possible to use yoga and meditation as a special detox for our subconscious. With conscious yogic techniques, together with the serious practice of becoming aware of one’s own thoughts, it is actually possible to rewire our brains and work through the subconscious mind. It is a training — mental training, which does not require getting punched in the torso, doing one-armed pushups, or climbing 72 steps like Rocky Balboa. This training will only challenge you to take a step outside of yourself and watch whatever is going on like a movie.
This training may take you to the final scene of “Matrix” when you break free from your mind. Neo steps into his true power the moment he stopped believing the agents to be real and froze their bullets. Likewise, you can choose to free yourself.
It means you must stop seeing your thought pattern as significant.
It means choosing at every moment not to be overwhelmed and overpowered by the programs of your mind.
It also means experiencing whatever life throws at you without being swayed by it, which in itself is the definition of yoga.
Life is a Bollywood/Hollywood/Nollywood movie. Yes, I mean that. It’s nothing to be taken too seriously. Remain unmoved and unaffected by whatever appears. Watch your own personal movie as a witness, because — spoiler alert! — none of us are getting out of this life alive.
That’s all folks. The end.
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