I thought I'd write about Svadhyaya (swah-dee-hya-ya) today, as I think it's one of the most important aspects of yoga, and one from which we can all benefit.
In simple terms, Svadhyaya means self-study. (Sva means self, and adhyaya means inquiry.) So often in life we're on cruise control, blindly going through the motions. We're not tuned in to what's really going on. We're just waking up and going through our daily life feeling somewhat empty, feeling that our lives are lacking.
On the mat, this can be dangerous. Someone who enjoys an active, challenging asana class may approach the practice as simply a means to being fit. The approach is aggressive, and lacking in introspection. That lack of svadhyaya- the act of listening to the body and the mind, and staying connected to your inner being, can be a recipe for injury.
Off the mat, svadhyaya can be practiced solo or examined in your relationships. Being an observer of yourself in your quiet moments, and when you're out on the town is practicing svadhyaya. It's inquiring who you are, why you're doing what you're doing, why you say what you say, etc.
One way to practice svadyaya is through reading "sacred texts". If you're religious, reading major works from your religion is encouraged. But for those who aren't religious, I think reading anything that offers a new perspective, that makes us reflect on our current ideas and challenges our mental boundaries can be equally beneficial.
Another great way to practice svadhyaya both on and off the mat is through meditation. Normally we think of meditation as sitting somewhere peaceful and breathing. Traditionally, that's what meditation is, and personally I think that type of meditation is fantastic. But it's also difficult for us Westerners. Because of that, I like the idea of doing anything that brings you a meditative calm- running, gardening, golfing, etc. Even practicing being very aware while you drive or while you walk to work can be a form of meditation.
Incorporating svadhyaya into your everyday life is a way to experience life more fully. It's about getting to know ourselves better. And when we begin to truly understand ourselves, we identify the connectedness that yoga is all about.