Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Practicing and Teaching Yoga--Mind Awareness

The following post is an excerpt and/or summary from my forthcoming book: Teaching Yoga—A Definitive Guide.

Body, breath, and mind awareness—I consider the cultivation of these three things fundamental to the practice and attainment of yoga. When you gain awareness of all three, in the moment, you place yourself (sometimes unknowingly) in your center where you align with your soul or essential self.

At first, when this alignment occurs you may have a euphoric feeling. You could feel extremely peaceful, joyful, and in-love with yourself, others, and life. At the same time, this alignment can leave you feeling emotionally overwhelmed or nauseous. You see, our essential self vibrates intense bliss; much different than any bliss that we experience in our regular day-to-day life. When you align with your essential bliss, the potency of the experience burns away impurities--or anything that does not align with that vibration of truth. For most all of us, we have accumulated a lot of impurities. Therefore, the ecstasy of union/yoga is often a “good pain” or a “hurt so good” kind of feeling.

For example, many years ago I was going through a deeply profound healing process within myself. I was practicing a vigorous form of yoga on a daily basis. Most of my practice sessions would last from 2 to 3 hours! I would sweat a tremendous amount and feel light and spacious at the end of practice. One day, however, as I rested in savasana, completely “spent” from the rigors of my practice I went into an altered state. A vision came to me. I saw my entire body engulfed in the color red and I experienced an extremely deep state of inner peace and contentment that I had never felt before. Slowly the vision dissipated and I got up to attend to the rest of my day.

A few hours later after relaxing and reading I stood up and stretched my body and yawned. Suddenly, I started to sob uncontrollably. My whole body cried for over an hour. As I sobbed I heard an inner voice coming through that said, “Everything is already ok. Everything is already ok.” These words became like a mantra in my head as many veils over my eyes were lifted. I saw for the first time consciously, an aliveness that penetrated everything around me. I remember staring at my plants, touching their leaves, and continuing to sob over the fact that they too were alive, like me.

As you can see, although I was experiencing a euphoric and expanded state of being, I was also feeling a tremendous amount of pain. Through alignment with my true self I could see all the ways I had been misaligned and it hurt! All the years of disconnect, all the years of forgetting, all the pain from being separated from my most beloved Self. It was a “good pain”.

So, when considering the topic of Mind Awareness, I want you to understand that discomfort is natural and should be expected. It is within the realms of the mind where all the big stuff happens. It is the mind that programs your physical body, the flow of your breath and energy, and it is the mind that underlies your emotional states of being. If you can become the master of your mind you are enlightened.

Most people are working on the physical body (annamaya kosha) and energetic/breath body (pranamaya kosha) in their yoga practice. This definitely impacts the realm of the mind (manomaya kosha and vijnanamaya kosha), but the impact won’t be permanent until the body, breath, and mind are all equally viewed with conscious awareness. This is when true change occurs. This is when self-realization happens.

Exploring the realm of the mind is advanced work in many respects. For instance, in Raga or 8-limbed Yoga, the body and breath are first tamed and regulated before the practice of meditation is encouraged. In meditation one becomes very intimate with the workings of the mind. At this level, you are learning to really master your attention or energy and become the commander of your own self and life.

Our minds are amazing tools we have been gifted with. But, when we lack awareness of them, they can be infiltrated with immense darkness that stands in our way from living in alignment with our soul. Gaining mastery of the mind will require you to face the darkness that lurks there. Again, this can be equated to the “hurt so good” feeling. Gaining awareness of your mind will transform your entire life. But gaining awareness of how you have allowed your mind to control you in many negative ways may be painful—but liberating. Are you willing to go for it? Do you want to become enlightened and learn to be the master of yourself and your life?

If so, here are a few ways to cultivate awareness of your mind in your yoga practice and/or in your teaching.

1. Hold the intention to know the truth of who you really are.
Believe it or not, very few of us really understand the potential we carry within ourselves. Instead, we believe ourselves to be who we’ve been told we are by various “authority” figures, including parents, teachers, the government, and society at large. I consider myself a seeker. I strongly believe there is more to discover, more to know, more to embody; and I want it. Do you? If so, consider the idea that you don’t know yourself yet and hold the intention that you want to.

Teachers, as a spiritual guide to your students, you have the ability to facilitate awareness and promote personal and global evolution! This is exciting and a gift. How do you want to use it? Educating your students about their Whole Self is key. Let them know, there is more to discover about themselves and yoga is one way of getting there. Suggest the idea that the happiness they experience in their life now is only 20% of the happiness that is available to them. Can you even imagine this? It is the truth. Encourage your students to embrace the intention “to know the truth of who they really are”.

2. Ask why.
To begin exploring the mind you must begin to question it versus just accepting everything it thinks! The best place to start is when you are faced with something that makes you uncomfortable. Instead of settling, instead of just accepting what is, ask why.

For instance, in yoga practice, your mind proclaims “handstand isn’t for me” and you sit that pose out and sulk because it looks like so much fun. Ask why! This is when things get juicy. Maybe your mind tells you “because you are weak” or “because you weigh too much” or “because you’re not talented enough” or “because you are scared of failing”. Whatever the answer is, do you believe it? Is it true? Why is it true? Why do you have to believe it? Like I mentioned earlier, darkness lurks in the mind and works to keep us disempowered and victims to our own lives. Whatever you are experiencing in life, don’t let your mind make up its mind without your conscious approval! Ask why!

When you are teaching challenge your students to gain discernment of their mind’s unauthorized authority over everything. When a student says, “I’m just too weak to do that pose” show them the way. Help them start small to build the strength they may need. Or, bust through their mind’s illusions and support them in possibly trying something for the first time. For me, these are often the most satisfying teaching moments . . . a student’s exhilaration after turning upside down for the very first time or reaching their toes when they believed it would never be possible. Don’t let them be a victim to their mind’s preconceived notions about what is and isn’t possible. The sky’s the limit!

3. Learn to simply observe your mind
In addition to dialoguing and/or questioning your mind’s programming, learning to simply sit back and observe the chatter is useful as well. What story is the mind currently engaging in?

I think of the domain of the mind as a giant library filled with millions of books. In any given moment the mind has hundreds, maybe even thousands of books open, reading and acting out overlapping stories all at once! It’s exhausting; which is why we remain unconscious to most of the chatter. But, becoming conscious of it empowers us. Instead of letting the story be our reality, we can see it as it really is, a story. At the same time, we gain the power to change the story to something that may suit us better.

As a teacher, I like to offer periods of silence during class, sometimes I will interject during a quiet moment with, “what story are you telling yourself right now?” And then I guide them back to the breath and the sensations in the body. Additionally, I offer short meditations, usually at the end of class when the body is more able to sit comfortably. Sometimes I offer meditations that work to train the mind into silence, such as focusing on the breath. But, other times, I just invite students to sit and be and just observe what is.

It can take a while before one realizes how much is going on in the mind! But, if adequate body and breath awareness have been cultivated, the realm of the mind will become more conscious.

Have fun exploring! I welcome any comments . . . until next time. . . Be the best person you can be!

In light and love,
Amy Patee

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