A student asked me if I could present a theme on self-awareness so allow me to first offer up a working definition. Merriam-Webster defines self-awareness as "knowledge and awareness of your own personality or character". This definition seems so limiting so here's mine; self-awareness is being conscious of who we are and the space we are in. Yoga offers tools in self-awareness by teaching us to be present. Some examples are how to be a non-attached witness to what our bodies feel, how to be present in watching our breath and how to focus the mind in meditation. Some of us may feel we do all those things pretty well. Others might admittedly struggle. But, the question is how often are we in "that place" of conscious awareness? For example, I might feel I have conquered those three yoga tools, but if I do not put them into practice off the mat, how can self-awareness exist without the quality of being present? In sanskrit, there is the word "swadhyaya" (swah-dee-eye-yah). "Swa" means self and adhyaya means study. So, perhaps our theme is really about swadhyaya, the study of the Self.
I started writing this by titling this theme "Stairway to Self Awareness" and left that at the top of my document page to come back to. When I returned, my daughter had filled in the rest of the page with the words to "Stairway to Heaven"; she said the title sounded too much like the famous song. I laughed and then took a moment to really read the words. Here is what stood out:
"there are two paths you can go by but in the long run
There's still time to change the road you're on"
You have the power to make whatever changes you want to in your life. BUT, how can you make changes in your life if you aren't aware of who you presently are??
Abraham Maslow wrote, "What is necessary to change a person is to change his awareness of himself."
So, here we go!
Swadhaya translated literally means self-study. It is an active study that cannot be attained through books. You can read them to start you off and give you guidance, but, ultimately, you have to practice this, well, practice!
In the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali outlines the eight branches of yoga. The second branch are the "niyamas" [nee-yah-mah], which offer clear direction in personal discipline. Let's look at the five niyamas and their own lessons in being present just in the studio [it would take many themes to delve into their full meanings].
The first is saucha (cleanliness). In the studio, think about how after class you tidy up your space. Use saucha as a lesson in awareness by thoughtfully wiping down your mat, rather than doing so in auto-pilot. Walking steadily to put away your blocks away. Or a really good example is in taking care to refold your yoga blanket and putting it away neatly for the next class.
The second niyama is santosha (contentment). Can you be aware of your body's abilities on the mat and be content with what the body can do today?
The third is tapas (heat). When you become worked up and overwhelmed on the mat with a pose, self-awareness should lead you into ways to scale back the pose; break it down into smaller more manageable pieces.
Ishvar pranidhana [eesh-varapran-ee-dah-na] (surrender to god) is the fourth niyama. It is a reminder to not force yourself through your practice or compete with others... to learn the idea of surrendering.
And then you have swadhyana. Next time you are in your yoga class, look around at all of the other amazing people who are practicing beside you. And then...realize you are alone on your mat; that yoga is an internal practice of awareness and that lesson is completely up to you.
"'Man, know thyself!' is an ancient dictum often forgotten by even the sincerest aspirant. True unity of spirit cannot come to one bereft of self-knowledge. Introspect, rather than introvert; look within; seek within... Seek knowledge of the self which can set you free from illusions and delusions of the ego, the 'non-self'... To know oneself will require patience..." ~Swami Gitananda Giri
I stumbled across this comment on the internet somewhere: "without swadhyaya there can be no yoga". If I am following the instruction of the class but simply going through the motions while my mind starts preparing a menu for dinner, I am not really practicing all aspects of yoga, am I? Remember, the actual poses are only mentioned a couple of times in the entire Yoga Sutras.
"So the first step is to think of the purpose behind all the things we do. Watch yourself, look within, analyze yourself. We have to form a habit of looking within ourselves again and again as opposed to looking at others or outside us. Thinking is needed, but not about others – Why did he do this or say that? It should be about ourselves. .. Build a relationship with yourself. We don’t know ourselves. We react to others, we don’t even live to the fullest. So think about it. Just listening to a lecture or reading a book is not Swadhyaya. We have to work. Too much reading or television is a waste of our valuable life. Sit quietly and spend time with your Self.“ – Smt. Hansaji J. Yogendra