Tapas (purification) and svadhyaya (self-reflection) exist in mutual relationship, tapas being the means whereby we purify and refine our systems and svadhyaya being the means of self-reflection through which we come to an increasingly deeper level of self-awareness and self-understanding. By cleansing the vessel of the body and mind, tapas makes us fit for svadhyaya; by examining the vessel, svadhyaya helps us to understand exactly where we should concentrate our practices of purification. And thus, in this relationship between purification and self-examination, we have a natural method for discovering who, in essence, we are.
We cannot truly consider tapas apart from svadhyaya; therefore, an intelligent practice of tapas must of necessity include svadhyaya. For example, if we do intensive asana (postures) without being adequately self-reflective, we may end up destabilizing our hips, creating vulnerability in our lower back, and ruining our knees. If, however, we consider the asana practice itself as a mirror, we are certainly more apt to avoid injury and may even come away with a better understanding of ourselves as well.
For many of us who are drawn to styles of asana practice that reinforce existing tendencies, this is a tricky point. For example, if we are the high-paced, hyperactive type, we might be drawn toward a very active practice—one that makes us sweat and that generates lots of heat—whereas what we may really need is a more soothing and calming practice. Or if we are the slow-moving, sluggish type, we may be drawn to a very gentle and relaxing practice, whereas what we may really need is a more active and stimulating one. In either case, the result would be tapas without svadhyaya. And in both cases the result would most likely be a reinforcement of existing patterns or, even worse, a possible injury or illness.
When we practice, it is important to look carefully, both at who we are and what is actually happening in our practice so that we have a constant feedback mechanism through which we accurately feel what is happening in our systems, and as a result of which we learn increasingly more about ourselves.
In short, tapas accompanied by svadhyaya ensures that tapas is transformational activity and not simply a mindless application of technology or, worse yet, an abusive activity. According to the ancients, svadhyaya develops tapas, tapas develops svadhyaya, and together they help us awaken to the spiritual dimension of life. And thus, as we go deeper and deeper into the process of self-investigation and self-discovery, we also go deeper and deeper into the Self, until eventually we discover (or uncover) the Divine. One great teacher has described this process with the image of a drop of water dissolving into the ocean. At first we wonder whether we are the drop. But eventually we discover that we are not and have never been the drop, but only the water itself.