The niyama svadhyaya means self-study or self-reflection. It involves the reflection of your thoughts, speech and actions in order to truly know yourself. If you observe your mental, verbal and behavioural patterns, you become conscious of your conditioned tendencies. Yogis consider meditation as the main method of self-inquiry, since it is dedicated solely to observe the responses and habits of your mind. Though, svadhyaya includes any inspirational activity, from the simple act of chanting to receiving teachings from a guru or reading sacred texts. These activities are tools to help you understand yourself and the more honestly you know yourself, the more you are able to be in control of your moods and emotions.
Living on earth with many other people provides you with a great opportunity to see yourself in the mirror of relationships. By watching how people are responding to you, you can start to understand something about the way you act habitually. Often I find myself on cruise control and I do not take time to check where I am and how I feel. If I am alone I am quite able to play the game of avoidance and self-deception. However, if I am accompanied by my intimate friends or close family, it is hard to hide aspects of my personality. My partner especially can provide me with a perfect mirror in terms of my behaviour and thoughts. Often, I am surprised how familiar my behavioural patterns become to him. This familiarization gives him the skill to exactly say the words that bring me back to my wise self, instead of acting from an emotional or rational self.
So in fact, you can use any person or any activity – solitary and relational – as an opportunity to see more deeply who you are and how you act. Through this process of self-study you will arrive at a deeper level of self-understanding. Ultimately, this will remind you of your higher potential, your true self.