The 4th Niyama: Svadhyaya

680a9800-62b6-4b19-9563-c19cfc1d385fAn article on the joy of studying ancient text today.

Reflecting on sacred words primarily means studying sacred texts. In yogic practice these texts include the Vedas, Bhagavad Gita, Yoga Sutras, and Upanishads. This practice is one of the five Niyamas, or fundamental ideas of the path of Yoga.

Studying sacred texts is part of being an intelligent, thinking human being. Ever since people created the first scrolls and scripts, we have been sharing knowledge via this channel. Leaving messages for each other through the limitations of time from one fragile human being to another. “I was here. This is what I’ve learned. Take my knowledge, I will leave it for you.” The people who wrote them were up for a great task. Facing the greatest challenge of using words, languages, sentences which so very often mean different things to each and every one of all religious, spiritual or ancient writings remain unchanged throughout the ages. They are solid, silent, and permanent. They are like rocks on the timeline of humanity or landmark posts for the intelligence of humans to light the way. Pointing us to the direction to follow.

The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali is one of the fundamental texts of Yoga Philosophy. The truth is: we don’t even know if Patanjali was one person or a group of people who’s combined efforts became the step by step guide to health, happiness and liberation of the soul. The Yoga Sutras is a collection of nearly 200 chapters (or Sutras), divided into 4 books. What we do know is that these texts were written somewhere between 4000 to 5000 years ago and ever since, they still stand. I started reading the Sutras about 15 years ago. Different copies, translations, editors and teachers translated and explain it differently. I picked it up, put it away, back and forth ever since. I do not claim to understand it all. I may never grasp the complete thing in this lifetime. Every once in a while however.. There is a light going off in my head reading the lines. Like a moment of “AHA” or enlightenment when it becomes clear and sharp. YES! OF COURSE!

If I may…. I would like to share one of these moments with you. Please forgive my stumbling, I too am limited by words, language barriers and sentences. An example like this my help you understand how the Sutras work and how amazingly relevant they are in every age to every human being all around the world.

The 33rd Sutra goes like this:

“Maitri karuna muditopeksanam sukha duhka punyapunya visayanam bhavanatas citta prasadanam.”

“By cultivating attitudes of friendliness towards the happy, compassion for the unhappy, delight in the virtuous, and disregard toward the wicked the mind-stuff retains it’s undisturbed (translation from: The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali by Swami Satchidananda )

At first read it sounds like lots of nice words, guidelines of friendliness, warning to stay away from the wicked, etc. But why? What purpose this serves and how exactly to bring this theory Now let’s try to serve these very same words a little bit more 21st century style (you know, when everything starts with numbers, turns into an advice and hopefully is very easy to apply).

Sutra 33:

There are four kinds of people in your daily interactions and everyone will fit into one of these four boxes, based on YOUR current state of mind. If you have these four keys in your pocket you can open all four boxes and remain mentally at peace. Once you have attained a peaceful mind, no one should take that from you.

1. Be friendly towards everyone who is happy around you. Happy box= friendliness key. Isn’t it nice to hang out with peeps that smile? Of course it is. Be friendly with them.

2. Be compassionate towards the unhappy. Unhappy box= compassion key. You may not like to be around unhappy people, but you can understand. Some days are harder then others. You had bad days too. So be compassionate and send them a smile.

3. D e l i g h t e d i n t h e v i r t u o u s . V i r t u o u s b o x = d e l i g h t k e y. Someone has it better then you? GREAT! Good for them. Celebrate it. They are proof that

4. Disregard the wicked. Wicked box= disregard key. Yepp, some people, some days are just bad. Get out of there. As simple as that.

“…and the mind-stuff retains it’s undisturbed calmness.”

meaning: you remain calm and peaceful in your heart, body and mind.

Isn’t this brilliant? Isn’t it simple? It sounds like those people 5000 years ago dealt with the exact same issues we do, when it comes to social interactions. In Sutra 33, they have left us the 4 keys to handle people and do not lose our cool. The writing is on the wall, the message is decoded. Now we just need to carry the keys around and start noticing which key to use and To me, the messages of this ancient text are powerful, meaningful and very helpful. Not only as a yoga teacher, most importantly as a Practitioner of a conscious life. To understand and apply any Sutra a day, a week, a year or even a lifetime may be necessary. Time doesn’t really matter. If these words like rocks, can still stand the test of time after 5000 years.. oh well! I have nowhere to rush to in these few decades of my lifetime. I chose to spend the precious capacity of my mind trying to decode, understand and practice their words.

In our studio (Flow Yoga Studio Campbell River, BC) we started a study group and gather once every two weeks to discuss, analyze and share Yoga philosophy. Our group is called: “Vichara Self Study Yoga Porgram”. What better way to deepen our understanding of this brilliant wisdom system than returning to the original, fundamental writings of it. Perhaps other Yoga studios will chose to do the same. Add one “philosophy” class a month or every couple of weeks. Pick a topic, a Sutra perhaps, or a Yama or Niyama and allow time for people to read. The right people will gather every time.

For those interested to start their own studies, below is a list of books to read. Variations on the same topic. These are the ones I found in English. I’m 100 % certain translations do exist on every language of the world. Good luck to all of you. Enjoy the process, trust the words and have an amazing time sharing your understandings. I would LOVE to hear from you. What did YOU learn from the Yoga Sutras? How did the words open your heart and mind? Did you have a moment of “aha” lately? Let’s share, discuss and connect the present world of Yoga to it’s own , marvellous past.

For any input, feedback or discussion, find me at: orsi.yoga@gmail.com

Suggested reading:

The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali by Swami Satchidananda
The Yoga Sutras of Patañjali: A New Edition, by Edwin F. Bryant
Light On Yoga Sutras Of Patanja by B.K.S. Iyengar
The Yoga-Sutra of Patanjali: A New Translation with Commentary by Chip Hartranft
Inside the Yoga Sutras: A Comprehensive Sourcebook for the Study & Practice of Patanjali’s


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Born in Hungary as a Gemini-Leo, my parents named me: Földesi Orsolya Borbala. My life has always been led by the winds of change, and I affect people the same way. My intention is to fill these winds with love, so wherever they take us, our changes make us better people. I have been a holistic practitioner since I was 21. Yoga entered my life at the age of 27, when my body started sending me signals that my activities were not in perfect harmony and flow. I started having environmental allergies, asthma, pains and aches, even panic attacks. My amazing family doctor recommended yoga to me, instead of taking pills. Read More.