Who are you? A yoga therapist on self-study

By Jennie Lee

Image from rawpixel.com

Two things are certain: You were born, and you will die. Not so certain is whether or not, somewhere in between, you will determine who you are.

Self-knowing is an inherently human pursuit, an essential part of our life journeys. So why not ask the big question sooner rather than later. Who am I?

There are many layers to how any one of us might answer this at any given moment. And innumerable reflections and meditations can guide us on this inner inquiry. In the yoga tradition this exploration is called svadhyaya, the sacred study of the Self of which we are all part—consciousness embodied.

Svadhyaya is part of the eight-limbed path of practice described by the sage Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras. The eightfold path spells out the ways we can experience our true nature as pure consciousness.

But practically speaking…

Although this might all sound a little esoteric, yoga is actually a practical science. Through lifestyle shifts (some of them quite simple) that align us with qualities such as peacefulness, integrity, and contentment, as well as inwardly focused practices, we start to know ourselves as more than the roles and relationships we inhabit. As we learn to cultivate inner stillness, a state of meditation, our individual consciousness expands again into the great field from which it emerged originally. This is called samadhi, or the liberating union of individual consciousness with divine consciousness, and it’s compatible with a range of belief systems.

Photo by Tachina Lee

Many people who meditate experience moments of this pure awareness and report it to be incredibly blissful. But only a few achieve mastery of this state and stay in it all the time, functioning as human beings in the world but with complete awareness of the cosmos and endless peace and joy. Momentary realization of one’s true nature is called savikalpa samadhi, and the state of full liberation is known as nirvikalpa samadhi.

Sounds like a lofty goal when most of us are just trying to get through the workday, pay the bills, and feed our families! 

What’s important is not the achievement of this high state through our yogic practices, so much as the deep knowledge that we are not limited beings consigned to the dramas and challenges of human life. Eventually we will experience ourselves as pure consciousness, inherently whole and free. In the meantime, just knowing intellectually of this possibility helps us answer the question Who am I? with a little more grace.

Jennie Lee is an IAYT-certified yoga therapist (C-IAYT) and author of True Yoga: Practicing with the Yoga Sutras for Happiness & Spiritual Fulfillment and Breathing Love: Meditation in Action.