Posted by: Bruce Black | August 1, 2017

The Path to Self Knowledge

One of the gifts of keeping a journal as part of my yoga practice has been the way writing illuminates questions that yoga encourages me to ask about my self and my life.

Questions like: Who am I? What am I passionate about? What gives life meaning?

Until reading an advance copy of Big Gal Yoga: Poses and Practices to Celebrate Your Body and Empower Your Life by Valerie Sagun (Seal Press, 2017), I hadn’t realized that what I was doing—keeping a practice yoga journal to explore these questions—was a part of yoga called Jnana, which Sagun describes as “the yoga of self knowledge through deeper self-examination.”

In Big Gal Yoga, Sagun explains that there are six basic systems of yoga “that are meant to open our curiosity to expose and explore our true nature:”

Kriya, the yoga of self-awareness through ritual;

Jnana, the yoga of self knowledge through deeper self-examination;

Bhakti, the yoga of self-love;

Baja, the yoga of understanding who you truly are by way of meditation, concentration, restraint, discipline, postures, breath, attention, and bliss;

Hatha, the yoga of the physical body; and

Karma, the yoga of service

While I found her descriptions of all six systems interesting, I was most captivated by what she shared about Jnana because it felt as if she was describing precisely what happens when I open my journal and start writing.

“Jnana is a yoga practice that takes place off the mat,” writes Sagun. It is a “philosophical part of yoga that puts you on the path of wisdom and self-knowledge by having you practice self-questioning, reflection, and intellectual enlightenment as you investigate your thoughts, identity, and ego.”

And this: “It is a formal way to develop deep inquiry and personal contemplation so that you can work out who you are and who you want to be.”

What most appeals to me about Jnana, as Sagun describes it, is the way yoga can help bring about understanding and self-knowledge.

“Self-knowledge doesn’t occur with one ‘eureka’ moment,” writes Sagun. “Instead, it’s a daily challenge of self-questioning… Take time to get to know what you like and who you are…”

Sagun describes it as the ongoing process of exploring ourselves, which is the essence of keeping a journal.

“Within Jnana, there are four attributes which indicate avenues of self-knowledge,” she writes. “One of them that is easier to approach is called Viveka, which is to distinguish intellectually between what is real and what is not real. It is finding the ‘right understanding’ of the Self and non-Self, long term (eternal) and short term (temporary), pleasure and bliss, and the truth and soul versus materiality.”

The right understanding of the Self.

“According to Yogapedia,” Sagun continues, “Viveka is an important aspect in the physical practice of yoga as well. It shows one’s skill in discerning the details in one’s alignment, by turning one’s attention inward and working with the invisible details. Learning to detect the details about one’s yoga practice helps to improve the practice itself, but can also increase the quality of ‘off the mat’ experience as well.”

It shows one’s skill in discerning the details in one’s alignment, by turning one’s attention inward and working with the invisible details.

How I love this idea of “turning one’s attention inward and working with the invisible details,” and how this process has the power to change the way we practice on and off our mat.

In the end, Jnana helped Sagun discover what she really loves.

“Soon after I started practicing yoga,” she reveals, “I fell into a rut with my artwork. My work wasn’t conveying my ideas, and as a result, I became increasingly frustrated. So I took a break from art and turned my full attention to yoga with the guidance of Jnana: asking myself “Who am I?” and finding my own “right understanding” for what I needed for myself.”

This process of learning to question ourselves about our experiences and how we engage with reality is a deep part of yoga practice, and it forms the heart of keeping a journal.

Listen to Sagun: “There is not one way to figure out Jnana. It is something that cannot be taught or given, like all of yoga, because it is all based on an individualized thought process.”

Perhaps you’ll ask yourself the same questions that Sagun asked herself: “Who am I? What is my relationship to my body? What am I doing to better my life?”

Ultimately, it’s the process of asking such questions that forms the basis of Jnana.

And it’s thanks to our ability to pose such questions that we can deepen our yoga practice and gain greater understanding of ourselves.

For more information about Valeri Sagun and Big Gal Yoga, visit:




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