A 10 Day Yoga Challenge With a Difference
In yoga philosophy, Svadhyaya means the study of the self, Sankalpa means an intention made from the heart and mind.
On our recent social media journey, a community of yogis explored their inner worlds, relationships and the yogic path of living through the 5 Yamas and 5 Niyamas over a period of ten days. We moved inwards under the guidance of Himalaya Yoga Valley Philosophy Teacher Viriam Kaur who shared her knowledge and wisdom on these first two of the Eight limbs of Yoga codified by Patanjali over 1000 years ago.
There are so many yoga challenges dedicated to the physical aspect of yoga – by creating this challenge we hoped to ignite a spark of interest in the philosophy of yoga with yogis around the world through Svadhyaya Sankalpa. In this post, we’ve summarised the challenge (contemplation) for each day.
Use the quick links below to navigate to the challenge you want to re-visit:
– Day 1: Ahimsa
– Day 2: Satya
– Day 3: Asteya
– Day 4: Brahmacharya
– Day 5: Aprigraha
– Day 6: Saucha
– Day 7: Santosha
– Day 8: Tapas
– Day 9: Svadhyaya
– Day 10: Ishwara Pranidhana
Svadhyaya Sankalpa Day 1: Ahimsa
Cultivating Compassion – The direct translation of Ahimsa is non-violence or non-harming, but if we cultivate an environment of non-violence what do we create? There are many ways to practice ahimsa in our lives but let’s turn it inwards to start.
Every time we choose to not react to something that usually triggers us; or drop a judgement we have about ourselves or others – we create an environment of greater understanding and connection and this has a dynamic effect on those around us.
We all know that the only person we can change is ourselves – but if in our daily interactions we respond with respect and understanding, rather than blame and anger, we start to create a different dynamic in those interactions . This doesn’t mean that you have to agree with someone – but you communicate that with respect rather than fear.
When we are limited by our judgements we create separation. Ahimsa is the root of our yoga practice as it starts to give us this sense of connection – oneness.
You can do this with a journal or simply take a moment to contemplate. What judgements keep you stuck in habitual responses of anger or blame? What would your life feel like without a particular judgement? How might that non-judgemental attitude affect your relationships today?
How do you choose to interact with the day ahead?
And you might get to the end of the day and realize how many judgements you have made! That’s OK – Don’t judge yourself on top of that! Simply start being aware of the judgements in order to create change.
Svadhyaya Sankalpa Day 2: Satya
Speaking Your Truth – How often do you say ‘I’m sorry for what I said earlier, I didn’t mean it’? So many times, we speak without thinking. We are essentially on auto-pilot and say things out of habit.
Satya is about speaking our Truth – but it takes a lot of practice to tune into what our Truth is; to strip away layers of our story, our habitual responses, our conditioning, the opinions we might have inherited from parents and friends. Eventually, we have to ask ‘Will the Real Viriam Kaur Please Speak Up!’
One of our first steps as a Yogi is to dissolve the conflict between Ahimsa and Satya. For Patanjali, all of the yamas and niyamas (restraints and observances or as Swami Rama calls them ‘the 10 commitments’) are guided by ahimsa (non-violence or compassion cultivation) and so essentially our whole yogic journey is rooted in this sense of oneness (no separation). Our moral radar is guided by ahimsa first.
Often we don’t speak out in case we cause harm, upset or anger someone; so Satya is about speaking out when we might cause harm to ourselves. Honouring our own boundaries and what needs to be said – conscious communication. So we have to tune into our motivation – do we share something because it is our Truth or because it is our Opinon?
Hareesh Wallis says that a True statement never begins with the word ‘You’; it can only ever start with the word ‘I’. Spend some time thinking about this – it has made such an impact on me. How often do we make up a story about someone else or suppose that we know what they are thinking or what they are going through? It is good sometimes to put ourselves into another’s shoes to cultivate empathy, but so often it just creates another… story!
Svadhyaya Sankalpa Day 3: Asteya
Is about our Integrity and starts to introduce the notion that underpins and challenges our journey, that of non-attachment. The direct translation of asteya is not-stealing; if we cultivate this practice we create integrity, trust and respect. We’ll talk more about non-attachment when we come to the 5th yama Aparigraha, but the seed is sown here.
What are we most likely to steal? Or what do we feel is most often stolen from us? Time – we so often complain that there is not enough time! But how often do we steal our own time (Instagram! Facebook)? It’s amazing how often we feel that there is not enough time to practice meditation and yet we find many opportunities a day to scroll. So we could see this as stealing time from ourselves.
And time is Energy – which is the other element that we probably feel is stolen from us.
We often steal time and energy from others, so a way of translating asteya could be ‘not taking what is not freely given’. We are not necessarily running off with a swag bag full of someone else’s time, but how often do we ask a loved one a question or tell them a story when they might simply not have enough time to hear it? And then we are upset or dissatisfied with their response. A practice that has greatly improved my communication is asking if someone has time to hear a particular story or discuss something or whether I need to simply wait for a more appropriate time.
Maybe this story is very important to you right now, but your audience is tired and simply doesn’t have the energy to listen fully and compassionately to you right now. We so often take advantage of those we are in relationship with.
In fact, this practice is revolutionary in terms of relationships!
Svadhyaya Sankalpa Day 4: Brahmacharya
Cultivates respect, integrity and connection. Brahmacharya is translated as ‘having ethical conduct like God’, but 9 times out of 10, if we read about brahmacharya it is referred to as celibacy. Essentially practicing brahmacharya is about honouring what is appropriate to you in terms of intimate relationships. Traditionally, both monks and householders practiced yoga. For a monk, celibacy is utterly appropriate and yet for a householder, it is not. Similarly, it was traditional for there to be a celibate period in one’s life, perhaps when immersing oneself in study at an ashram for example. So, often we have a hard time translating brahmacharya to our modern practice of Yoga.
Firstly tune into what is appropriate to you – whether you are in a relationship or not. Essentially sex can be a big distraction that creates daydreams and fantasies – often a lot of our sexual conduct is in the mind! And Patanjali sees the mind and our thoughts as our biggest obstacle in cultivating peace and oneness.
And look at the previous lessons of ahimsa, satya and asteya – in terms of ourselves and others when we are in relationship – If we are in relationship because we don’t want to be alone – we are not being honest with ourselves or others (satya) and stealing someone else’s time and energy (asteya), ultimately creating conflict and misunderstanding (ahimsa and satya).
“When we bring our whole Self into a relationship, then we stop looking outside of ourselves for happiness and love – and instead share our wholeness.” Amoda Maa
There is no ‘other half’. We do not need someone else to make us ‘whole’. It is time to share our wholeness.
Svadhyaya Sankalpa Day 5: Aparigraha
Means non-clinging or non-grasping – and it really helps us see how often we chase after things that we think will make us happy and how often we run from the things that we think will upset or challenge us. This yogic concept of raga (attachment) and dvesa (aversion) is at the heart of our journey.
It is almost impossible to define happiness. It is subjective and transient. What made us happy yesterday might not necessarily make us happy today and it feeds into our judgements . Judging ‘this is good because it makes me happy’ versus ‘this is bad because it makes me unhappy’ creates the chase and ultimately suffering. And we often use these judgements to start defining ourselves, even simply ‘I am a happy person’ or ‘I am a judgemental person’.
Judgement creates conflict and attachment.
“Non-attachment does not mean indifference or non-loving.
Non-attachment are love are one and the same” Swami Rama
Attachment creates conditional love; non-attachment fuels unconditional love. This is the invitation of practicing aparigraha.
How often do we define ourselves by what we wear, what job we have, what phone we use or whether we are in a relationship?
You do not have to clear out your wardrobe, throw your phone into the river or sever relationships with your family in order to practice non-attachment, but you need to drop the notion that any of this stuff defines you. You are so much bigger than who you think you are.
Svadhyaya Sankalpa Day 6: Saucha
If we practice the yamas – non-violence, honesty, non attachment to people and things, then we create a clarity of mind. How often is our mind caught up with judgements, what we wished we’d said earlier, fantasies and opinions. Ultimately, sauca is about cultivating a purity of mind so that we can then sit calmly in meditation or deal with the day and those around us with compassion.
We can create this inner clarity through our physical asana practice, our pranayama and meditation and through conscious eating. Essentially the more mindful we become in our daily routine, the freer our mind becomes. We cultivate an environment for inner clarity.
Cultivating sauca draws us back to the yogic and ayurvedic concept of the Gunas – Sattva-Rajas- Tamas. In order to cultivate sauca we need to tune into sattva – lightness. What practices, foods and even people make you feel lighter? Are there habits that drag you down (tamas – heaviness) or practices that over-stimulate (rajas)?
“When undisturbed, sattva produces a type of happiness, it is rajas that causes suffering. Everyone has experienced that well-being, peace and happiness are the result of moderation. When rajas activates and one becomes overactive – over-indulgent or hyper-energetic – one’s peace of mind is destroyed and replaced by suffering, either mental (anxiety/craving) or physical (ulcers/indigestion).
Likewise if tamas activates and inertia sets in, one cannot feel satisfied or self-content at all. Since the natural state of mind is sattva, it is rajas and tamas that are the disrupters. When Sattva is disrupted, suffering is the result.” Edwin F Bryant ‘The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali’
Svadhyaya Sankalpa Day 7: Santosha
Contentment is the compassionate side of happiness. Happiness without judgement. We might define ‘happiness’ and ‘contentment’ as the same thing and yet, contentment is about being content with whatever is, not chasing after something because we think it will make us happy, or striving for something slightly better. So often we sabotage our own contentment by imagining how it could all be just a little bit better.
Contentment is an inner understanding – knowing that this is it in the moment. Appreciating the moment for what it is. You don’t have to feel utterly happy about it, but you are content with the whole range of human feeling that you are experiencing this day, week or lifetime.
How often do we set a goal and then we achieve it, we move the goalposts – we start to strive and fantasize about the next thing? I want to open my own yoga studio – tick. Ah, now I want to have a bigger yoga studio – tick. But what if I had my own yoga retreat centre in the Maldives… these ambitions are fine, but often we do not take satisfaction in the achievement of the goal, we just race on towards the next one. Enjoy the journey.
Gratitude – Sit comfortably, close your eyes and tune into the rise and fall of your breath. Take your time, give gratitude for each breath. Be grateful for every breath, every heartbeat, every teacher, every lover, every conversation, every challenge, every laugh, every tear, every worry, every argument, every embrace… Each and every experience brought you to this moment that you now find yourself in. Be grateful for the journey.
Svadhyaya Sankalpa Day 8: Tapas
Tapas is discipline and persistence. To me, it is about showing up each day on your yoga mat and about taking responsibility for yourself. Traditionally, tapas is described as an inner heat or fire that burns through our petty desires as we focus on our burning desire of Self Realization.
Sometimes we sit on our meditation cushion, or we do a heart-opening asana and it triggers an old memory, our wounded self and we have an emotional response.
Again this is about santosha – being content with the energy of today’s practice and tapas is about staying focused to see what needs to be healed and seen. The non-yogic response would simply be to not practice that asana again! Sometimes, people say they don’t like a particular asana simply because it reveals something to them that they find challenging.
Tapas is the element in our yoga practice that keeps us focused and builds our inner strength. It is the element that gets us back on the mat the next day even if in yesterday’s practice we relived an old heartbreak.
How often do we get on the mat and it is hard to switch ourselves off from the overwhelming petty desires or the to-do list? We might be on the mat, but not fully present. To practice tapas, we need to be in the moment and drop auto-pilot mode.
Svadhyaya Sankalpa Day 9: Svadhyaya
The invitation of this whole challenge has been Swadhyaya – committing to studying the Self. The true goal of Yoga being Self Realisation
Swami Rama described the Yamas and Niyamas as the 10 Commitments – committing to understanding ourselves and what makes us tick. Really every principle of the Yamas and Niyamas teaches us something about ourselves – how we interact with the world, what fuels our judgements, how honest we are with ourselves and so all of the yamas and niyamas give us a lens for self study.
Patanjali talked about svadhyaya as sudying the scriptures, but Swami Rama says “Studying our own thoughts, deeds and actions is the real study.”
We could read a pile of books on yoga and a library full of books on enlightenment and they will certainly give us insights – but until we actually embody the teachings and offer up our own life experiences to the teachings, nothing changes. We might get glimpses – but we need to apply the teachings to on our own unique emotional baggage.
Contemplation is polishing the mirror. Looking inside and not looking away if we encounter something that we don’t like. Continuing to look inside if we are confronted by an out-of-date belief or a long-held judgement. Today’s contemplation is simply to sit with whatever is.
“The authentic life we seek is as close as our nose.” Judith Lasater.
Svadhyaya Sankalpa Day 10: Ishwara Pranidhana
Surrender Surrendering to the Divine – tuning into Universal Wisdom. What did Patanjali mean by ‘Ishwara’ or the Lord? By not giving a name of a specific deity Krishna or Shiva – this invitation of surrender to the Divine is open to our own individual journey. In which ways do we directly experience that Oneness – that sense of connection or communion?
Whether we choose to devote ourselves by chanting Krishna mantras, hiking in the forest and connecting to Nature, lighting a candle in church or temple or meditating and tuning into our Essential Nature?
Whether we look outwards to the Divine or tune inwards to see the Divine inside – this is the ultimate invitation of yoga
– Contemplation-Our sankalpa is a conscious intention-our heart’s desire. This challenge has been about stripping away old stories so that we can learn more about ourselves (swadhyaya)-this is our sankalpa. So now let’s take time to focus on our sankalpa.
Maybe as a reflection of this challenge, our sankalpa becomes: ‘I know My Self’
Sit for a while and think about an intention that would radically change your life. A sankalpa is not a wish – we need to drop the language of ‘I want’–when we use this language we are hinting that we are not this already – that there is work to do. Actually the greatest realisation in yoga is that we are perfect as we already are–there might be some conditionings and misunderstandings to clear away–but our Essential Nature is perfect
So ‘I want to Know Myself’ becomes ‘I Know Myself’–A conscious statement, rather than a wish… or maybe even just ‘I am’
Or maybe ‘I want to feel complete’ becomes ‘I am Whole’ or ‘I am One’. Really anything over three or four words makes it too complicated. Our sankalpa – our conscious intention is short and sweet – purposeful and life-changing
For some it takes years to come up with a sankalpa–so take the pressure off – tune into an intention that works for now–this week or this month–a working sankalpa that fuels you for this part of your journey
Teacher of Yoga Philosophy at Himalaya Yoga Valley
Viriam has been teaching yoga philosophy with Himalaya Yoga Valley since 2011. She trained with the SKY School of Kundalini Yoga (Yogi Bhajan) in the UK in 2003 and has been teaching around the world ever since. She has furthered her studies of yogic philosophy with the Oxford College of Hindu Studies.
You can follow Viriam’s teaching on her Instagram