May, 2020

Self awareness and Yoga

By Abha Humeniuk

By practicing yoga we do not only learn to focus on our bodies, we also get the ability to focus on our lives

Bending and twisting our bodies in all kinds of shapes is useful for humans who spend a lot of time sitting on a chair. It also makes us feel good and energized, as well as calm and focused. Group classes have a different energy and they also provide social network. Private classes are expensive but very useful for some people. Personal practice is very rewarding but requires discipline and learning the correct methodology.

When I look at some longtime practitioners, I see amazing changes and transformations, not only of the body but also of their minds. Dedicated practice also contributes success to one’s personal and work life as well. One may not have started with that intention, the goal being simply to get rid of stiffness in the body.

The body deserves particular focus. From its outer structure to its inner workings, each one of us has a unique one. Some parts are the result of our genetics and others a product of our habits and behavior. Although in our modern life we tend to have mass produced shoes, clothes, diet, and even health remedies to fit all. Yet we are an individual. So, can we take control of our body? All it takes is paying attention.

Many years ago when a senior teacher asked me to position my feet facing forward, I couldn’t understand. I wondered as to what way that was. Don’t feet always face forward ? Just when I realized that my feet were facing sideways, it was the first opening of my mind that I need another set of eyes to watch me. I also need to train myself to pay attention. Now I watch everyone’s feet I come across! I had to develop inner eyes through the eyes of my teacher to understand what not knowing means. In yoga it is called AVIDYA.

The literal translation of Avidya in English is “ignorant ” and that doesn’t go well with us. But even not knowing makes us feel uncomfortable. Because what is it that I don’t know ? Our Ego or our conditioning deceives us. We read newspapers and we are aware of the latest trends, in our work and homes, so what is it that I don’t know or see ?

Well! I do not know myself. ( at least not fully)
In yoga, consciousness starts with ourselves and the first instrument we have is our body. By paying attention, we remove our Avidya.

Here is another example related to feet. A person walks into a shoe store and mentions heel pain. The salesperson has learnt that a good arch support is important, so they send this person home with a shoe that has arch support. Now every time this individual buys a shoe, he/ she feels the need for the same arch support. They can also go for orthotics, ( individualized foot support). A few years later, the theory changes, and now walking in shoes without arch support becomes popular.

But if this person were to practice yoga, right from the beginning, he/ she would have to learn about their own two feet. How they distribute their own weight, how to align them, etc, the list goes on. Not only do they require to correct some of the misalignments in the body, they need to learn to see things in a different light and focus better. These are techniques that help us become aware of ourselves on a physical level and we then begin to take better care of ourselves.

Although this practice is an external practice, it helps us to get over our physical limitations. As we work along with these physical limitations, somewhere along the way our mind gets involved. Then we start focusing. When we learn to focus on our bodies, we also spread the ability of focusing to other aspects of our lives. That means fewer mistakes in other aspects of our lives too. There is more coordination in our body and mind and we feel we are in control.

Cultivating sensitivity in the body helps us see clearly where in the body one has blockages and knots, and how to work with them. Asanas are a tool for meditation. One then cultivates the asana practice into a way of understanding oneself, what we call swadhayaya (study of the self). Then we no longer need a psychiatrist to analyze us. We can correct ourselves and move on. The same thing with our physical limitations, we see through them, gradually get past them and feel healthy both physically and mentally.

This is one of the ways Yoga helps us, starting with external practice to moving inwards so we are not scattered.

Abha Humeniuk has been practicing and studying postures and philosophy of Yoga throughout her life. She is a certified Iyengar teacher, currently teaching at Setu Yoga, Toronto,,

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