7 ways yoga can help you to get to know your true self

One of my favourite principles of Yoga is Svadhyaya, or self-study.  Why?  Because what greater investment can there be than getting to know yourself – really, truly, deeply know yourself.  Not only is the relationship with oneself the only relationship guaranteed to last a lifetime, but I believe that how we think, respond, our beliefs, our perceptions, our behaviours, our habits – all these aspects of ourselves – all affect our reality and the quality of our lives more than anything else.

If that’s got you feeling inspired for some self-reflection, then read on for 7 ways yoga can help you to get to know your true self.

1 – You become more acquainted with your unique body and the messages it is sending you

It is increasingly accepted that mind and body are inseparable, and in many ways we already know this intuitively – we can feel our emotions in different parts of the body and our thoughts can also influence the way our body feels, if only we take the time to pause, tune in and really listen.  Your yoga practice encourages just that and your interoception – as Nahid de Belgeonne defines it, your ability to listen to the ‘signals that your body gives you and responding accordingly’ – becomes more and more developed.

Your practice also allows you to get familiar with where you hold tension, where one side feels different to the other, where more strength is needed and where flexibility can be developed.  You gain more and more knowledge of your own unique body as you mindfully move on your mat.

2 – It gives you the opportunity to notice that how you do anything is how you do everything

‘The yoga mat is where we can investigate how we do anything and everything, and where we can create helpful new habits that work off the mat’, write Sage Rountree and Alexandra Desiato.  Next time you are on your mat, what can you learn about how you approach things?  Is your mind on the next part of the practice rather than the present?  Do you tend to push yourself beyond your edges, or shy away from them?  Is your inner voice critical, comparing or supportive?  Observe without judgement and then practice starting to notice when whatever tendencies you observed show up in your life away from the mat too.

3 – It reveals things about yourself even when you don’t practice

How much of the time do you want to meditate, or do some yoga at home in between classes, and then you don’t?  If you answered yes, you’re not alone – obstacles and resistances to practice are something that have been recognised by yoga and meditation practitioners for thousands of years!  But even your resistances and obstacles to your practice can help to reveal things about yourself, if you use them as an opportunity for reflection and self-study.  For example, perhaps a part of you wants to practice, but another part of you feels guilty or not worthy of time for yourself?  Does it seem indulgent to sit and meditate when there is lots to ‘do’?  Where do similar themes come up in other places in your life, stopping you from doing what you would like to?

4 – It affords you time with yourself away from all the noise and distractions of everyday life

We are all so bombarded with distraction nowadays, but inherent to yoga practice is that is gives you time out away from all of this, especially if you regularly take yourself off to a class, workshop or retreat to practice, away from your usual routine.  This quiet time on your mat can bring you back to yourself and help you to remember who you are.  This opportunity for self-study ‘can help us connect to what actually matters and our true beliefs’, writes Hannah Barrett.

5 – You start to get familiar with the nature of your mind

The Tibetan word for practice is ‘gom’ which literally means ‘getting familiar.’  As you sit in meditation, you are afforded the opportunity to get familiar with the types of thought stories that arise as you keep returning your focus to the breath. In this way you really start to get acquainted with the workings of your mind, and also over time start to be able to touch into the essential part of you, the one who watches the thoughts.

6 – It connects you to your essential nature

Leading on from number 5, the more we practice noticing and observing what is arising, building more and more awareness, the more we can identify with our essential nature, which is that of the observer, the one that watches, and who is always peaceful.

In Buddhist meditation tradition, this essential nature is also seen as a basic goodness core of your being.  As Cyndi Lee writes, ‘This is not something that we have to earn or work for, it is not something that you get from a guru or something that you can ever lose … So there is no need for self-improvement. You are already good, just as you are.’  Your practice connects you back to this core, your reflection in the mirror when you clean off all the mental ‘dust’ so that you can truly see yourself.

7 – By studying the ancient texts of Yoga

And finally, as Larry Payne and Georg Feuerstein write, traditionally Svadhyaya means to both study yourself and studying for yourself; their advice therefore, as part of your Svadhyaya, is to read and study the ancient texts of yoga.  ‘Study of the scriptures always confronts you with yourself’ say Larry and Georg, and certainly some of the universal truths about the nature of what it is to be human in texts such as the Bhagavad Gita and the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali are incredibly thought-provoking.  If you want to begin with a more modern text which is influenced by the teachings of the Bhagavad Gita, Think Like A Monk by Jay Shetty is an accessible and rich starting point.

As you can see, self-study really is ‘a requisite part of yoga’, just as Sage Rountree and Alexandra Desiato write in their support of Svadhyaya.  And from my own experience, there are no greater rewards than the ones you find when you truly, deeply get to know yourself.  As the great Carl Jung wrote, ‘Who looks outside dreams; who looks inside awakens.’  Yoga, like happiness, is an inside job.  Happy practicing dear ones.

© Catherine Rolfe 2023