Awareness is so key that, when we strip away the form and the frills, our practice on our mats is much more a practice of awareness than asana. One of growing our ability to take perspective rather than do posture.
In the words of Pattabhi Jois, the originator of the modern practice of Ashtanga Yoga:
“Yoga is an internal practice. The rest is just circus.”
Growing awareness on our yoga mats
So does the above mean the physical form of our practice is not important? No, far from it. The intensity and challenges make our practice on our mats one of the best techniques available for growing awareness. In other words for disentangling the part of us that is immersed in experience from the part that can step back and observe. For growing our ability to take the perspective of what has been called witnessing consciousness.
This is the perspective where we shift our attention away from its habitual captivation by feedback from our immediate environment (like, wow look at the teacher’s posture); its captivation by the ticking of clock time (like, how much longer am I going to have to hold this pose); and its captivation by the stories running though our heads (like, my body is so inflexible, I’m no good at this).
When we practise yoga on our mats we turn our attention inside and we learn to observe. To observe not just with our minds. We learn to observe with our feeling, with our physical body, and we observe energetically. We observe with our full being. We focus on what is happening in each posture, in each moment, and we grow our ability to see how we are creating our reality through our reactions from moment to moment. And through that seeing we can disentangle from those reactions.
Taking awareness into our worlds
When we frame our yoga practice as one of awareness then the link between our practice on our mats and taking our yoga into our worlds becomes clearer. The wider benefits of greater awareness are obvious; those of being able to sit in full lotus or put one or both legs behind our heads much less so.
When push comes to shove it is outside of our practice times that the real opportunities for transformation present themselves
Using our awareness off our mats starts with stopping to reflect before we act. Stopping before we resort to reacting according to our patterns. Stopping to examine the situation from different perspectives. Then choosing to respond rather than react, and taking responsibility for that choice.
When push comes to shove it is outside of our practice times that the real opportunities for transformation present themselves. Awareness becomes real when we change our whole being in some way - that's what we mean by realisation. It becomes real when we take our awareness out of the realm of thought and intention and into our being. Off our mats and in our worlds.
The power of awareness
Whilst growing our awareness is not the only key to growing our yoga it is a very empowering one. It is through awareness that we grow our ability to see - and be with - things as they are. Training our awareness shifts us from drama trip to dharma trip: it empowers us by shifting us away from characteristics than are holding back our growth, such as resistance to what is and playing victim.
Awareness empowers us by facilitating growth in our self-response-ability: our ability to respond rather than react to stimuli. And it empowers us by facilitating growth in those characteristics that we can not train directly, such as wisdom and compassion.
Growing our awareness is not only empowering - it is fun. So once you start you can't put the genie back in the bottle!
For a more detailed exploration, watch my video below where I explore what the yogis called the five obstacles or kleshas: Ignorance, Egoism, Aversion, Attachment and Clinging and how making these more tangible is one way of growing our awareness.
For an irregular dose of playful yoga philosophy you can follow me on Twitter: @DDodd108