The journey in yoga and its techniques find their root or starting point at awareness. To understand the practice of yoga and maximize on its benefits it is essential to understand awareness in detail.
Understanding awareness is a very big problem for most beginners into yoga. It is commonly heard in a yoga class, ‘become aware of this’; ‘become aware of that’. But what does awareness really mean? How does it help one in a yoga class?
Though awareness is better understood as a personal experience, it doesn’t hurt to understand it on an intellectual level. Instead of being totally dark about it, it is better to understand it a bit before figuring it out in a yoga class.
For most of us awareness is to acknowledge the presence, of a thing or a part of the body or a sound or a concept, etc. But yogic understanding of awareness is a bit more than this. Awareness in its true meaning is to grasp, to understand, to feel what is going on around us and most importantly what is happening within us. To be in a state of awareness is to expand our ability to grasp in and out, in a sense of entirety, but not in bits and pieces.
For most part of our lives we have a little grasp or hold on experiencing life in its absolute sense. We breeze through life with a tunnel vision, missing the bigger picture mostly. As we tend to grasp more of life in every situation and relate to more innate aspects of things both internal as well as external, we will begin to see that there is underlying connection in everything. This spurt of developing a connection is awareness and it is absolutely a natural and pleasant experience. If this becomes a natural part of our existence in every walk of life, we end up expanding our awareness.
Expansion of awareness breaks down barriers that our mind has created in our lives. With this ability to go beyond the mind, we begin to understand concepts that are beyond the experience of mundane life. Anything we see, feel, grasp, experience beyond this point will be driven by insight and pure awareness, a truthful state of consciousness.
Anything in this planet which has life in it is a conscious being. The fundamental nature of every living being is consciousness, be it humans beings, animals, plants, bacteria, cells, etc., every living thing is conscious. Consciousness is the greatest mystery of the universe.
Though consciousness is the same for everything, the caliber to express it varies with the organism. For instance a dog and a plant are capable of consciousness in different levels. Humans on the other hand have the most complex and evolved expression of consciousness.
Awareness and Consciousness
If consciousness is everywhere around us, then why is it that only humans are the most evolved beings in the known universe? The answer is awareness. The world that we live in today is the result of expanded awareness of human beings with evolution. A plant, a cell, an animal, every living organism is conscious. Their awareness is either elemental or nonexistent, but human beings are the most aware of the lot. Mankind alone has the ability to realize that they are alive and conscious. They alone have the ability to expand their awareness to its fullest potential.
Consciousness is the same for every organism, it cannot be quantified, but its potential is infinite. To express it depends on the extent of awareness one can expand themselves to. Every human being is capable of expanding their awareness. We all are made of the same material, possess the same potential. It entirely is up to each of us to reach the pinnacle of our awareness. It is a personal choice to be made, if one wants to go beyond the barriers of the mind.
Let’s say two people who have never did run a mile in their lives have decided to participate in a marathon event in 6 months. Now, both exactly have the same potential to finish the marathon. But if only one of them has undergone the necessary training diligently and the other didn’t, who do you think will be successful? So after the 6 months one of them ends up reaching their full potential and the other wouldn’t. Same goes with our awareness. If we spend our lives expanding our awareness, we would have a better chance at reaching full potential of our consciousness.
Awareness and Yoga
Awareness in terms of yoga is the ability to witness our own mental and physical activities from a distance. If we can separate ourselves from our activities: internal and external, then we become aware in the true sense. Each of us at some point in our lives might have experienced this, even for a few seconds. The implications of this separation are overwhelmingly great.
If we can become aware this way then we have surpassed our fundamental nature beyond mind and body. This means that we are aware of the fact that there is more to us than just the body and mind. This experience alone is enough to change the way we perceive ourselves and the world around us. Some of us naturally have this ability to detach and witness from time to time. This ability to witness is understood as awareness in the yogic philosophy.
Awareness is a privilege that humankind alone has access to. No animal or any living organism has the ability to witness itself in action. Though humans possess this ability, it is rarely used. We are often lost in our societal norms, work and mundane activities. We end up thinking that the work we do or the actions we perform as our personality or true nature.
By detaching ourselves from the experiences of body and mind we can witness our true nature. Awareness and its expansion is the only way to witness our true nature. We are much more than the body and mind. Mind and body are only tools we use in our experience of life.
Awareness & Detachment
Practice of Yoga helps us to increase awareness so that we can detach from body and mind and witness ourselves. We can watch our own thought processes as though we are watching a movie at a theater. If the movie were really interesting, though we only are an audience, we end up being engrossed completely in the drama shown on the screen. For the duration of the movie we become the characters portrayed on screen. We can imagine our whole lives as being engrossed in the actions of mind and body without even realizing our true nature.
On the other hand, if only the movie was not interesting to us, we would not identify ourselves with the drama, we would be detached, but the movie would still be running perfectly as it would otherwise. This is awareness with detachment. This is where yoga shines forth. Practicing yoga is a great way to strengthen the ability to witness without attachment; detached awareness.
If this sense of detachment becomes natural to us, then amazing things begin to happen in life. Our perception changes for good, clarity in thought action and deed will be achieved. Every moment of our life becomes meaningful and carries a purpose. This happens minus the painful limitations of body and mind. Without the awareness we spend our lives imprisoned and limited to the expressions of body and mind.
To develop awareness no fancy stuff is needed. All that is needed is regular practice of yoga at home or at a group yoga class. If you are true to your practice, awareness will gradually develop. With a dedication towards practice, boundless patience and undeterred trust on oneself, eventually, ‘realizing the true nature’ or reaching ones ‘full potential’ or ‘moksha’ or ‘ nirvana’ as called by many names can be achieved in one’s own lifetime.
Whatever is being practiced in a yoga class, asana or pranayama or a meditation technique, just emphasize on awareness. This awareness can be on simple stuff in a yoga class. It can be on the alignment of the posture or breath or a point of attention. Become aware of the changes, the practice brings on your body and mind. This will develop a sense of ‘being in the present’ in the beginning, which would eventually develop to awareness during class. With time, this sense of awareness will extend to your daily life. If yoga is practiced over the years, awareness becomes your natural state of experiencing life.
You may want to or you may not want to reach your full potential, practicing yoga helps to maintain physical and mental health. It doesn’t matter with which purpose you walk into a yoga class, you will always walk out as a better version of your previous self.