by Joanna Nobbe
Sometimes I really don’t want to look at my checking account balance. I’d just rather not know. Sometimes I hate looking in the mirror. I don’t want to be reminded that I’m getting lines around my eyes and that some of my hair is starting to gray. It’s much nicer to “know” my checking account is afloat or to imagine how I look in flattering light, 10 years ago.
Awareness is a word used often by those of us in mind body practices. Awareness is the ability to perceive events or stimuli as they occur. This is first and foremost a neurophysiological process via the senses and the brain and it amazingly spans both the conscious and unconscious mind. What is so special about awareness? Beyond the basic awareness needed to survive (i.e. awareness of an oncoming car so as to not die), is there inherent value in increasing awareness? What does awareness have to do with my downward dog?
In the Yoga Sutras, one of the classic texts from which modern yoga philosophy is rooted, direct experience is one of the first places a yogi can look for spiritual endeavor. “The sources of right knowledge are direct perception” (chapter 1, verse 7). On the other hand, “misconception occurs when knowledge of something is not based on its true form” (chapter 1, verse 8).
On the yoga mat, body awareness is the first level of awareness that we work with. Where ARE my arms right now? Are they where I THOUGHT they were? This pose feels amazing/weird/hard/ridiculous. From an enhanced awareness of the body, you start to pay attention to how things feel right now, rather than how they are “supposed” to be.
As the process of self reflection continues, another layer of self awareness emerges, a slightly deeper layer that examines the how and why of our actions. Why am I pushing myself so hard in this pose? Why do I need to do a handstand today?
The discoveries that are made on the mat
can transfer to life off the mat.
The discoveries that are made “on the mat” can transfer to life “off the mat”. When you take on the active process of self awareness, you can also take on the practice of acting from your experience of the way things are. Perhaps you’ve heard the adage: “live your truth”. How does your body feel when you are rushing to catch the train? How can you deal with that, or prevent it next time? Are your lifestyle choices reflective of what you truly want? Luckily, this logic provides vast opportunity for continuous personal growth and change. There may even be some surprises along the way. Self awareness can inspire you to branch out, try new things, and take risks, in part because you can better know your values, or goals, and your deepest desires. Awareness is awesome and enriching and fulfilling! Yay!
However, awareness is not for wimps. Sometimes it means feeling something unpleasant, be it physical pain, frustration, or intense, challenging emotions. You probably have some destructive habit that you do over, and over, and over, and you know it. I habitually tense the muscles of my neck, shoulders, and jaw, especially when I’m working a lot at the computer and especially when I’m stressed. I know it’s causing me muscle soreness and tension headaches, but I continue to catch myself doing it all the time. Sometimes, awareness sucks.
So now, let me be brutally honest with you as a yoga teacher, Feldenkrais practitioner and practitioner of awareness-enhancing lifestyle. Any mind body practice you may be involved in will make you aware of new bad habits or dark shadows that may not be very comfortable to know about. Didn’t you start your yoga practice (or meditation, Feldenkrais, Pilates, Tai Chi, etc.) to feel more at peace, relaxed, out “blissed out”? The good news is that your mind body practice will also give you the positive experiences we talked about before, along with the flexibility and adaptability to fully and completely experience everything, trusting that life is a constant stream of change.
awareness is not for wimps
Perhaps we can cultivate a state of neutrality in our self awareness. I will definitely rediscover the tension in my neck and jaw very soon, then actively relax those muscles again and again. But for me, the true personal growth comes in having the “witness” inside of me, observing my reaction and responding honestly in the moment. It’s OK to be frustrated and to act so, then let it go when it’s done. When my neck and shoulders feel relaxed, I certainly want to notice and appreciate it! It’s an ongoing practice of noticing, acting, expressing, then letting go, and noticing some more.
Awareness based practices, be it meditation, yoga, Pilates, Feldenkrais, or whatever it is for you, might provide a space for you to experience yourself more fully in all your dimensions, good, bad, and otherwise. Heightened awareness of how your life feels in your body, mind and heart will most definitely be tough. Take a deep breath, feel your breath in your body, and see what comes next. Awareness may suck sometimes, but in 5 seconds it may be awesome. If you notice it!
Bread and Yoga Weekly Blog Series
Each month we feature one of our amazing Bread and Yoga teachers sharing their thoughts or teachings from their class with you and our community. This is the first post from Restorative/Gentle Hatha teacher (and Feldenkrais sub) Joanna Nobbe. Joanna will be blogging with us for the month of June! Check back next week for a new post.