I remember when I completed my very first 200-hour Yoga Teacher Training, I felt utterly humbled by the experience. Far from being the confident teacher I imagined myself to be, I felt small, and my knowledge insufficient.
Like all good teacher trainings should, it felt as though mine merely opened the door to exactly how much I didn’t know. I could lead a reasonable class of course, but I was so thirsty for more—ravenous for more information in an effort to come to grips with the ancient wisdom that had been passed down a long line, for the longest time.
It tapped into my fear that I was somehow inadequate. I had been handed a single drop in a vast and expansive ocean. I didn’t know where to start and felt as if I might drown, overwhelmed by what I was yet to learn with no idea of how to obtain the insights I craved.
I thought it meant doing more trainings. I thought it meant seeking out the opinions and teachings of others. It was a problem. It blinded me and I didn’t trust myself to teach for some time—all I could consider was how to become the practitioner and the teacher I wanted to be.
Svadhyaya or Self-Study
Then I rediscovered some notes I’d made on the Eight Limbs of Ashtanga Yoga, and in particular, Sadhyaya or Self-Study. Svadhyaya simply suggests that we observe ourselves. It tells us to take our time and adopt an attitude of self-enquiry as we walk this path that is yoga.
You see, self-study is an essential learning tool that will deliver us to all that we need to know in any given moment. It shows us the beliefs and behaviour patterns that we let define and direct us.
A teacher in India once told me, “Practice gazing at your navel! All the secrets of the universe will come to you.” I thought he was nuts and assumed he wanted me to sit down and stare at my belly button.
Then I realised he was talking about Svadhyaya in an effort to encourage me to not only look outside of myself for knowledge, but to empty and allow my own truth to be revealed through self-reflection.
Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom. ~Aristotle
This is why we practice with awareness and watch our actions and reactions, the impact and the uplift, all with an open mind and an open heart. Afterall, as our practice grows, the understanding of the self deepens.
We learn through trying, watching, falling, failing, adjusting and updating our opinions and perspectives, and then going again. Learning is not a linear journey, but an upward-moving spiral.
Confucius said, “You cannot open a book without learning something.” So there’s also a time and place for immersing ourselves in literature too, since the ideas of others help fuel the fire of continuous learning and explore alternative perspectives.
Here is my essential yoga reading list to help you go from confused to contemplative when you’re seeking new learnings and inspiration.
- The Science Of The Breath – Rama, Rudolph Ballentine and Alan Hymes
Philosophy and Theory
- Patanjali Yoga Sutras – Sri Swami Satchidananda
- The Bhagavad Gita; Conversations Between The Soul And God– Ranchor Prime
Theory and Practice
- Hatha Yoga Pradipika- Muktibodhananda Swami (Bihar School)
- Asana, Pranayama, Mudra and Bandha – Swami Satyananda Saraswati (Bihar School)
- Kundalini Tantra – Swami Satyananda Saraswati
- The Heart of Yoga – T. K. V. Desikachar
- Yoga Mala – Sri K. Patthabi Jois
- Ashtanga Yoga – John Scott
- Ashtanga Yoga; Practice & Philosophy – Gregor Maehle
- Ashtanga Yoga; Intermediate Series – Gregor Maehle
- Yin Yoga – Bernie Clarke
- Yoga Anatomy – Leslie Kaminoff
- Prakriti; Your Ayurvedic Constitution – Dr. Robert Svoboda
- The Pukka Life – Sebastien Pole
- Eat-Taste-Heal; An Ayurvedic Cookbook for Modern Living – Thomas Yarema, Daniel Rhoda and Johnny Brannigan
- Nourish – Katherine Smith
- The Journey Home – Radhanath Swami and Radhanath
- Autobiography of a Yogi – Paramahansa Yogananda
- Tantric Transformation – Osho
- Quantum Healing – Deepak Chopra
- Mudras; Yoga In Your Hands – Gertrud Hirschi
- Yoga School Drop Out – Lucy Edge
- Yoga Nidra – Swami Satyananda Saraswati
The trick is not to take on board everything everyone else says, but consider what they mean for us and how they’re relevant to our own lives.
We must take new learnings and translate them into personal experiences so that we can integrate this with our knowledge, and understand and upgrade it. This is part of Svadhyaya and the practice of self-study too.
Know yourself so well that you will grow into your wholeness and your greatness. ~Unknown