Live Your Yoga: Strengthen Your Awareness Muscles

So, we continue on with our journey of how our yoga practice can live off the mat and out of the four walls of the studio. This past week in my classes we focused on the practice of awareness.

Every time we step onto the mat, we are invited to become aware: to become aware of our breath, to become aware of the sensations in our bodies, to become aware of the thoughts and the quality of our mind. It’s all about turning inward to see where we are at any given moment – to step into the space of the present moment and to stay, as much as we can, in tune with what is happening within us moment by moment.

The mat is the perfect place for this work! Just as we strengthen our back muscles in backbending poses like Salabhasana or our quads in a standing pose like Utkatasana, so we strengthen our awareness muscles as we experience the sensations of the muscles firing or feel each breath in and each breath out. There are few distractions to draw our attention away from these experiences. But then, after our final OM, what happens? We roll up the mat and move out of the practice space and back into the real world with lots of noise and people, and oncoming traffic, and phone notifications pinging every 2 minutes…distractions are everywhere, pulling us away from our breath, from our bodies, from the clarity that we cultivated. It’s really hard to navigate all of that and stay super aware and present.

So, how can we continue to practice the radical awareness that our yoga asks of us, when we are not on the mat? Can we turn all of those seeming distractions into reminders to tune in?

Thich Nhat Hanh in his essay, “Bells of Mindfulness” suggests that we can use these sounds as little reminders, “alarms” if you will, to tune in.

  • When you hear your phone buzz because a text or an email has come in, could you pause and take one or two breaths before you look at it?
  • At a red light or as you wait for the subway could you pause and connect to your breath and the sensations in your body as you wait?
  • As you wait in line at the grocery store, could you feel your feet on the ground and feel the way the weight is distributed?

Take one moment now to stop reading this and breathe in and breathe out – what does it feel like to become aware of your breath – to step into the present moment? What else do you notice as you do this – can you feel your body – where you are holding and where you can let go? Do you notice the contents and quality of your mind?

Every time you pause to reconnect with your breath, or to feel a sensation in your body, or to simply notice what is actually around you – like a flower or the color of the sky - you are strengthening those awareness muscles and are bringing yourself back to the moment and the truth of the moment. Life goes fast – let’s tune into as much of it as possible!

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