Self awareness everyday keeps the doctor away

Until recently, I was one of those beings with an abysmally low level of self-awareness. I didn’t know I slouched while sitting, I was seldom aware that I sometimes breathed with my mouth and I hardly realised how my emotions impact my physical and mental well-being. Yoga is bringing a sea-change in my awareness of my own anatomy and emotions.

What is self-awareness? According to Patanjali, the founder of Ashtanga Yoga, Swadhyaya or self-study is a means to understanding oneself. Understanding the microcosm precedes knowledge of the universe. Patanjali espouses witnessing your thoughts, actions, moods and attitudes as a means to understanding yourself.

In this self-reflective piece, I am focusing on the physical aspects of self-awareness even though Swadhyaya, in reality, involves the study of one’s own mental and emotional responses. For me, self-understanding begins with the physical body. It is the awareness of the tiny and large muscles that move while I walk, sit, stretch and perform my daily activities and exercise. It is the subliminal awareness of how I unknowingly slouch my back or tighten my joints or contort my face during a tense conversation with a client or boss. It is the consciousness of the way I stiffen my muscles when I play a competitive game or match. It is the understanding of how my heart beats faster and how I breathe carelessly when I am faced with time pressures while completing my work or finishing my exam. And it is the awareness that the stomach has begun producing acids when it is time to eat, and if I tend to postpone lunch in order to complete my work, I am damaging my digestive system.

Can stress and injury be prevented? Yes, and observation is the first step! When you know what the problem is, it is not difficult to find a solution. But when you do not even know that there is a problem, the solution is far away.

For good asana practice, self-awareness is absolutely key. For instance, are you inadvertently hyperflexing your elbow or knee in your Adho-mukha svanasana or Trikonasana? Are you over-arching your lower back in the Urdhva Dhanurasana? Are you rounding your shoulders in Paschimottanasana? Are you twisting your patella (rather than inwardly rotating at your hips) in Padmasana? If so, you could be asking for trouble. Most importantly, are you using the right breathing techniques?  If not, you are not able to do the Asana properly and are not realising the full benefits of the asana.

Yoga asana practice undoubtedly helps raise your self-awareness. But Patanjali says you should first understand yourself before starting Yoga practice. I would fully agree. And for those who have not yet embarked on their Yoga journey, or are not able to do Yoga everyday, I recommend practising Swadhyaya. Witness yourself. Look inside. Start with studying how your body responds to external stimuli. Whatever be your profession or occupation, you might be able to eliminate a lot of stress, ill-health and injury if your self-awareness is heightened.

Aumkaram
200hr Yoga Teachers training course