Svadhyaya; Exploring Our Inner World

Written by Cat Kennedy

Swami Kripalu once said, “The highest spiritual practice is self-observation without judgment.”
The yamas and the niyamas are the first two limbs of Patanjali’s eightfold path. They are
considered the “ethical guidelines” from which to live by. The yamas are the restraints or vows
whereas the niyamas are the observances or positive deeds. They are the foundational core
from which further practices of Yoga develop. Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about the fourth
niyama, svadhyaya.
Svadhyaya is self-exploration. It’s diving into our inner world and studying our habits. For me,
each time I step onto the mat, I’m once again reminded of my own human journey. The mat
has held me during the most difficult times in my life, whether it’s been struggling with an
eating disorder, losing a loved one, or coming out of an abusive marriage.
Each time I’m on the mat, I begin again with a new awareness. Like children, the sensations,
thoughts, and emotions rush in wanting to be seen and heard. It is here, in this space, I’m
continuously learning to give them the attention they so desperately crave. Sometimes that
means being still while breathing a little deeper and other times it’s about becoming more fluid.
There are also moments in which taking care means leaving a pose that is triggering and
moving into another pose or space where I can gain more grounding.
The word “yoga” comes from the Sanskrit root word “yuj”, which means to yolk or come
together. I’m reminded of Rumi’s poem “The Guest House.” He says, “This being human is a
guest house, every morning a new arrival, welcome and entertain them all.” During the asana, I
feel that by joining with the breath, we are able to go to those places we may have never or
minimally explored. When there, maybe we can start to lean into those subtleties that have been
longing to be heard. And, by doing so, piece together the story our bodies have been waiting to
I’m a practitioner of Internal Family Systems, which is an integrative approach that sees human
beings not as singular but as parts. These parts consist of both protectors and exiles and are
guided by Self, or in yoga, the atman. The protectors are the parts that don’t want us to
experience pain and the exiles are the ones that are vulnerable and wounded. It is by
connecting to Self that we are able to understand and heal these parts. But how do we do that?
I feel that it’s first becoming aware of our parts. And, in my opinion, what better way to start this inquiry then on the mat.

In IFS, the Self has 8 qualities: confidence, calm, compassion, courage, creativity, clarity,
curiosity, and connectedness. Curiosity is the first one I like to start with. I feel that to get
anywhere, we must be open. In yoga, we have the kleshas. These are the mental states that
cloud the mind leading to unhealthy or harmful actions. I like to see them as the protectors who
are protecting those vulnerable parts. They mean well and, while it may not seem like it, have
our best interest at heart. And these behaviors that once kept us safe, now no longer serve. So,
what do we do? We start to listen to what they have to say. From there we can create dialogue
and build trust. Once enough trust is built, the protector parts begin to put down their defenses.
And, in time, allow us to go to those vulnerable parts.
Yoga is about taking what we do on the mat off the mat; it’s about recognizing our wholeness.
Through svadhyaya, we have the opportunity to hold all our parts and give them the freedom
to safely express, release, and integrate. It’s through listening and loving those parts that we are able to create change within ourselves and how we show up in the world.
Scientific research states that one of the main influences on our nervous systems are the
people around us. I once heard that a person can be affected by another person’s nervous
system up to 6 feet away. If we stop and think about that, it’s pretty wild. And only more so
demonstrates how interconnected we all are.
As Richard Schwartz, the founder of IFS, says, “It’s all connected. How you relate internally
directly translates into how you relate externally and vice versa.” For me, I’ve recognized, the
more compassionate, open, understanding, and loving I am towards my own parts, the more I
am able to show those same qualities towards others’ parts. And when I show others’ parts
kindness and empathy, I notice the more I feel that for my own parts, especially when there is
self-judgment or shame.
This past year, I have also learned that it’s important our external environment be a safe loving
space that can hold us for who we are. When I was in an abusive marriage, it was all about
survival. I couldn’t see straight; everything was so clouded by the abuse. I was constantly
dissociating and self-harming. My light had gone into hiding. Now, as my system has felt more
love and safety, I’ve been able to express through choices, writing, cooking, decorating, and
even dying my hair. That tunnel has gotten a lot less dark. And while it may be glimpses, I can
finally start to feel and see that light that was there all along. To me, each one of us are parts ofa bigger system. And this light is not separate. It’s the light that lives within all of us.
May we, as Dolly Parton so eloquently sings, “ Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine.”

1. Start in a restorative heart opener while having your students connect to their regular
inhales and exhales, implement more heart openers into the class
2. Create a little more space at the end of class to have the students choose their last pose
before savasana
3. Start with the non-habitual side first in asymmetrical poses
Richard Schwartz:

Internal Family Systems Therapy
No Bad Parts
Gabor Mate
When the Body Says No
(He has a similar modality to IFS called Compassionate Inquiry)
Bessel Van Der Kolk
The Body Keeps the Score
Nischala Joy Devi
The Secret Power of Yoga
The Wizard of Oz
Where the Wild Things Are
Beauty and the Beast
“This Little Light of Mine”- Sam Cooke
“Dark Thoughts”- East Forest/ Ram Dass

“Grow”- Facesoul
“Shine”- Dolly Parton
“True Colors”- Shannon & Keast
“The Guest House”- Rumi
“For a New Beginning”- John O’Donohue
“The Journey”- Mary Oliver
“The highest spiritual practice is self-observation without judgment.”- Swami Kripalu
“It’s all connected. How you relate internally directly translates into how you relate
externally and vice versa.” – Richard Schwartz
“Everything you judge about yourself, served a purpose at the time.”- Gabor Mate
“Yoga is the journey of the self, through the self, to the self.” Bhagavad Gita
“Yoga takes us back to the beginning of our journey of becoming human; we spark
memory that we are first and always an aspect of the Divine. The physical body was
created as a temple to house the Divine light.”- Nischala Joy Devi
“Yoga is the way to befriend your own body.”-Bessel Van Der Kolk

Lokah Samastah Sukhino Bhavantu
Anahata chakra seed sound- YAM