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  • Writer's picturethe traveling yogi

Self-awareness - a yogi's standpoint

As a long-time student of yoga and meditation, I have noticed that the attainment of "self-knowledge" and "self-awareness" seems to be front and center in most yoga traditions. One of the first mantras that I learned was "So Hum" (so = "I am" hum = "that"). I am that - As a young student, I wasn't quite sure of what that meant. The mantra was vague and out of my reach of comprehension. But now, after 20+ years of practicing yoga, I am starting to get it. When you start to walk on the path of self-awareness, you start to see more clearly and you start to become more 'awake.' The more awake you are, the more you are able to live in the moment. It has been my experience that when I nurture qualities such as self-awareness, wakefulness, and being present - change and transformation just happens. Although the process of change is slow, I can still see it and like the soil in a garden, the more I tend to it, the more growth I have.

The Merriam-Webster dictionary simply defines self-awareness as "an awareness of one's own personality or individuality." This definition, I feel, needs a bit of unpacking. Here is my take on the what and why of self-awareness: I believe that self-awareness is becoming very familiar with your inside world as it relates to the outside world. You come to know that the outside world is not predictable and constantly changing and you start to see that your inside world does not like this too much. This is important because it is human nature to want to hold on to the good and run away from the bad. In the quest for self-awareness then, you start to work with both non-attachment and letting go. My favorite teacher, Pema Chodron, has a quote that depicts this perfectly: "You are the sky. Everything else - it's just the weather." Things come and things go. There is impermanence - everything changes. As her quote suggests, you start to learn how to keep your inside world stabilized no matter what is going on in the outside world.

So, how does a person become more aware? Let me say now, that I am sure you do not have to do yoga or meditate to achieve self-awareness. is my opinion and from my experience - it helps A LOT! Both yoga and meditation have built-in systems that provide ways of checking in with yourself. You learn how to feel what you feel - and more importantly how to stay there losing the urge to attach to it or run away from it. This has helped me. The more I am able to do this, the more I start to see how I want to run from the bad and attach to the good of my outside world. This, I guess, is how the profound change starts to happen. It's like the adage - you can't change what happens in the world, but you can change how you react to it. So without further adieu, I would like to leave you with a technique that I use myself and teach to my students. It is a way to get skillful at simply feeling what you feel.

When I was in my yoga teacher training we learned of the 3 Gunas which are defined as qualities of energy. They are as follows:

tamas (darkness, lethargy),

rajas (activity),

sattva (beingness and harmony).

I was taught that we all have and need these energies. We need the heaviness of tamas to sleep just as we need rajas energy to get things done and sattvic energy gives you balance. Learning of the 3 Gunas back then had an impact on me and I developed a practice around my interpretation of them. It is a more tangible way for me to feel what I feel - to make the elusive qualities of emotions more concrete. For me, it is easy to "feel" the excess energy of tamas - dull, heavy, lethargic. It is easy for me to "feel" the excess energy of rajas - a racing mind. It is just as easy to feel the harmony of sattva energy. Using this as a guide, I am able to check in and more accurately feel what I feel. This practice has become a tool and like a compass, it navigates me. What is clear to me is that the 3 energies are constantly moving in and out of me - it's as if I am the sky and the energies of tamas, rajas, and sattva are the weather. If you have an interest in using the 3 Gunas as a guide, I can break it down into the following steps.

1) Chose times throughout your day that you can "check-in" with yourself.

2) Sit quietly and ask the question: How am I feeling? Mentally? Physically?

3) Observe. Resist the urge to change. Start becoming familiar with the feeling. In what capacity am I feeling the Gunas? Am I experiencing an excess? Tamas = heavy, dull, lethargic. Rajas: active, racing Sattvic: harmony, balance.

That is it! It is easy as 1-2-3.

In my pursuit of self-awareness, I have gained more insight, acceptance, wisdom, and compassion. It is a major stepping stone to becoming my best self. I will caution here, becoming self-aware is not a fast-moving process. The path of self-awareness is life long, but the rewards are so great and I thank God that I landed on this path just about every day. With that said, if you happen to see me in public somewhere losing my sh**, I will remind you that I am on a journey and not at a destination. 🥴

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