Showing posts with label Embodied Awareness. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Embodied Awareness. Show all posts

Yogic Consciousness and Embodied Awareness

  



            So, what are the options? I propose reverting to a prehistoric language. 

One that exists as humanity's most profound understanding and expression. It predates the development of spoken language and has its origins in the genesis of awe. 

As an elemental song and mirror of molecular and celestial activity, it may be found in everyone. It's a genetic design that may be seen in leaf patterns and sea horse bobbing. 

We have schooled it out of children, yet it is eminently there in them. But it's the tale of our place in the cosmos, and we need to start telling it again. 

Our ability to communicate to the entire is being eroded. The praising poems and the celebratory music.


    We live in exile from the source of our aliveness when we live in exile from the sensate reality of the body. The body is the sole area where we may reconnect with this aliveness.


    We all have bodies, but only a handful of us actually inhabit them. We may be separated from our sentiments, experiences, intuitions, and instincts by a small distance from the body. The body may appear to be a strange nation that we have just heard about but never seen.

    And, just as we may learn about a distant country through stories we've heard and photographs we've seen, we can never truly understand its reality unless we've walked, eaten, smelled, touched, and been there ourselves. We reclaim citizenship in our own house when we begin to live in the body again. We return to the body in this way.


    We lose touch with our somatic reality when we are not at ease in our bodies. Because we can only access our feelings and ideas through our bodies, neglecting our bodies gives us some distance from the substance of our inner world.

    We may unknowingly assume that leaving the body is one means of letting go of all those burdensome emotions and ideas. Unfortunately, by separating ourselves from what can be unpleasant, we simultaneously separate ourselves from what may be joyful. Even if we do pay attention to our body, it is possible that our focus is negative. “The only two areas of my body I adore are my nose and my ankles,” one youngster said. Alternatively, we might choose to ignore or divert the sensations that originate from our bodies.

    All of these methods separate us not just from our most immediate reality, our physical bodies, but also from existence itself. When we re-enter the body, we learn that we have an interior ecosystem as diverse as any country's, and that it is always in flux and changing. We should consider why so many of us abandon our bodies so soon after death.


    We make ourselves vulnerable to the tyranny of our intellect and the justification and defense of the logical mind when the body is considered as an equipment for carrying the brain about. 

    This might provide us with a useful sense of control over our life. While the logical mind is an important tool for discriminative awareness, it is not the sole way for us to learn anything. We may also learn through a gut sensation, a raise in the hair on our neck, or a “sense” that warns us to go immediately.

    Our ego is housed in the logical mind, and having a well-developed ego provides us a healthy feeling of our own merit, which is a desirable thing to have in and of itself. The rational mind helps us to center our thoughts, which is beneficial. Our executive ego, on the other hand, is housed in the logical mind and perceives itself as the keeper of our "I." Anyone or everything that gets in the way of this executive ego's orders is taken seriously.


    This component of the ego is characterized by inflated self-importance and spends a significant amount of time protecting its "self."

    The rational mind has the benefit of being well trained, often exercised (and obedient), and, not so coincidentally, intensely involved in maintaining its own dominating place in the chain of command as the representative of the executive ego. Our executive ego has had a PhD degree by the time most of us reach early adulthood, while our physical impulses may still be in kindergarten.

    We may have become accustomed to disregarding or overriding our inner impulses, mostly because they conflict with our executive ego's great goal. Our minds may convince us that staying at our job for another three years is a wonderful idea, but our bodies may have different ideas. Even if it's the first day of a challenging time, the executive ego instructs us to push through our exhaustion, while the body calls out for an afternoon sleep.

    We may become so adept at living beyond our physiological impulses that we begin to navigate our lives only via our reasoning thoughts, ignoring our gut instincts and passionate wants. This rejection is not taken lightly by our inner knowledge, which is led by the body. Trying to navigate our life with only one sense instrument is like to sailing across the ocean with only a compass, disregarding the movement of the wind, sea, and stars.


    According to the Katha Upanishad, this inner understanding has a physical location:


     The Self is that through which one appreciates shape, taste, smell, sound, touch, and sexual union. 

    Is there anything unknown to That Who is the All-Knowing? 

    2.31 Katha Upanishad

    Unlike many spiritual and theological traditions, which further alienate us from our embodied selves, Yoga is a tradition that has always emphasized the value of the body and mind coexisting in harmony. Yogis understood that the body's physical appearance was only a shape animated by something higher than itself.

    Our bodies are animated by the same power that moves the tides, opens a flower, and generates lightning in a storm. The air, fluids, and current running through our nerves, as well as the inner workings of each and every cell, are all moved by this life force.

    All of the sense organs, including hearing, touch, taste, smell, and sight, are animated by this animating principle. 


    This life force fills the body and manifests as the light that shines from our eyes, the glow of our skin, and the tone of our voice, despite the fact that it is not a tangible entity.


    As this power passes through the body, it changes the contour and form of our structure, forming our posture, walking rhythm, and facial character. Everything that has ever occurred to us—our birth, a six-year-old fall from a tree, our thoughts and feelings, what we consume, and the environment in which we live—is engraved on our bodies, producing a living archaeology record.

    We acquire access to the movement of our brains when we become aware of the internal movement that pervades the body. Yoga is a practice that allows us to reconnect with our innate knowledge. We begin to rejoin ourselves with the contents of awareness when we practice the asanas, or Yoga postures.


    We learn to become inwardly literate again by reuniting with our bodies. Yoga provides us with a level of physical literacy that is much above what is acknowledged by Western science.


    Because ancient yogis were adamant that every component of the body could become conscious, that every aspect of the body was consciousness itself, they mapped an inner geography of the body that represented the power underlying form.

    They were interested not only in the function of organs and tissues, but also in the interaction of nature's elements—earth (prithvi), water (ap), fire (tejas), air (vayu), and space (akash), and how a balance or imbalance of these elements caused health or sickness.

    The yogis were interested in finding the underlying principles of nature, much as the laws and rules that control the orderly functioning of a city are unseen yet yet dictate the direction, shape, and form of all action. They were able to identify several levels of the body, or koshas, by interpenetrating frequencies from the coarse flesh to the most delicate energy infrastructures.

    They also realized that the prana, or life energy that infused the body, traveled in certain directions, and that delicate management of this life force could alter awareness movement. As a result, becoming aware of one's physical body was not distinguishable from being aware of one's consciousness. We have learned to see the body as an object in the West, to exercise “it” as if it were a different thing from ourselves, and to command and control it.


    This excerpt from The Human Body, a children's book, summarizes the situation: 


    Consider your body to be a space capsule, with your brain serving as the command module and your trunk serving as the service module. Your brain, the computer that leads and controls the human space mission, is housed in your skull...

    The service module's machinery is controlled by control centers in the brain. They control the pace and rhythm of your heart and breathing, as well as telling you when to drink and eat. As you can see, your life is controlled by the computer in your mind.

    When the body transforms into a "it," we become someone doing something to someone, always disassociated. Furthermore, we have defined physical fitness largely in terms of the body's external look. 

    We're so preoccupied with this reductionist image of the body that there are movies dedicated just to producing "buns of steel" or "abs to die for," as well as books guaranteeing a "hard body."


    This fixation on what can be seen on the outside inhibits us from developing the type of internal awareness that allows us to reach our most profound insights. 

    Furthermore, the physical armoring of the body that is so ubiquitous in modern fitness models creates a numbing of finer sensations and feelings, as well as dampening any potential knowledge of deeper bodily processes. This focus with the exterior wrappings of the body is not seen elsewhere in the Yoga canon.

    Rather, the inner health of the subtle body is used to infer the fitness of the gross, or annamaya kosha, layer of the body. Health, a light body, and the absence of cravings

    A radiant complexion, a sonorous voice, and a pleasant body odor are all markers of growth in the practice of meditation. 2.12 3 Shvetashvatara Upanishad Bodily perfection, according to the Yoga-Sutra, manifests as beauty, elegance, a diamondlike shine, and great power (3.46).

    Our Western representation of the body is almost exclusively restricted to the loudmouth of the body representation, the musculoskeletal system, while the other interior systems such as the organs, fluids, and glands remain veritable wallflowers inside our awareness.

    Because the sympathetic nervous system (the component of the central nervous system responsible for terror, fight, flight, or a fakeit reaction) energizes the musculoskeletal system, we tend to function from the high notes of our neurological system while we are in our muscular mind. 


    Our sympathetic nervous system is largely responsible for detecting danger and protecting us from it.


    Our attention is persistently turned outward since we primarily exist in and express ourselves from this outside dimension. Our somatic world can become ungrounded without the help of our parasympathetic nervous system, which regulates breathing, relaxation, and activities like digesting.

    As a result, in order to balance the nervous system and create a perceptual doorway to the parasympathetic nervous system, the asanas, or Yoga postures, were historically done extremely slowly, with each movement coordinated to the breath. 

    This makes our feeling function available to us. We return our minds back into the body when we practice asanas from an inner perspective.

    We relocate our thoughts within our bodies and learn to listen to the nonverbal, nonmental information stored inside the soma, rather than guiding the body as a separate entity. The body becomes conscious, and the mind becomes embodied, as we devote our complete attention to every breath, movement, and subtle feeling.

    We begin to see the close connections between the contents of what we think, feel, and envision and our physical reality as a result of this direct experience of the body as an opaque form of awareness. 


    We begin to feel a unitive rather than divided condition as a result of this reconciliation between body and mind. 


    This is what sets hatha Yoga apart from other forms of stretching. We generate a type of mental and physical retardation and cement our alienation from our body knowledge when we read a book or watch TV as our body marches on the treadmill.

    Because our Western cultural heritage forbids us from having a complete relationship with our bodies, hatha yoga has frequently been reimagined as a sophisticated type of calisthenics whose primary objective is to make the body attractive and improve lifespan. Hatha yoga is good at these things, but they aren't the main objective of yoga practice, and when we practice in a way that produces unhealthy association with the body, we're just practicing exercises with Sanskrit names.

    Rather than challenging us to bend our brains and expand beyond our objectified perceptual leanings, the practice becomes adapted to accept the experience of the body as a "it." 


    We regain the only component of the practice that ultimately has any meaning for us—finding out who we really are—when our primary imperative switches from acquiring a form to creating an intimate connection with the life energy moving through that form.


    Hatha yoga is an excellent approach for being conscious of not just the body but also the life energy that animates it and us for this aim. The repertory of asanas reflects the boundless nature of mind. The repertory is pulled from nature, with each pose symbolizing some facet or expression of creation, a monument to our yogic forefathers' enormous inventiveness.

    We practice becoming trees, insects, birds, animals, children, sages, gods, and mountains in our daily lives. Every asana that has been passed down to us today originated with an actual inner urge that was sensed and experienced by someone at some point in time and then documented to be shared. The word asana, which literally means "pleasant seat," signifies to relax into the awareness of existence as it develops through the expression of each position.


    We aim to find the root of each movement and hence the original meaning of each gesture as we practice asanas. 


    This finding cannot be accomplished merely by imitating someone else's postures or mechanically repeating them. We must reach the whole emotion state of that form in order for the asanas to alter ourselves.

    At each level of evolution, we re-establish our connection with all creation by taking on the form of a fish, bird, tree, or mountain. 


    The practice of asanas may be broken down into many stages that we go through in order to achieve our goals. The stages are built in layers, with each one providing a foundation for the next to stand on.


    WHAT IS IT LIKE TO FEEL?


    When we enter an asana, we begin by sensing what is already there. We examine the mind-body thing from a neutral vantage point, resting our attention softly and without pressure, like dust falling on a table.

    The process of perception has no ideals or goals when we watch from this impartial vantage point. We simply feel ourselves as we are and accept ourselves completely for whatever we bring to the mat. We begin the process of befriending ourselves when we can bring a welcoming presence to our observations.

    This is an important initial step, since without a neutral observer, we can't possible know how we are, and thus can't know where to start or how to engage with oneself in the practice successfully. Our practice will constantly be a source of dissatisfaction and disappointment if we do not extend this generosity to ourselves.

    Because of the witness's impartiality, observation has the potential to go beyond our usual mental processes. As we acquire choiceless awareness, we begin to perceive things for what they are, not what we think they should be.


    WHERE DO WE FEEL STUCK?


    We are presented with our capacity or incapacity to take on this new shape when we initially assume a position. We are aware of all the areas in which we are tense. These collected areas of stress symbolize the recurrence of our ideation process, in which our ideas, worries, tensions, and worries coalesce into different patterns of tension, forming our distinctive particular posture or attitude toward life. We become what we think.

    We also meet the past and current history of the body in the form of birth traumas, injuries, disease, and emotional upheaval, and we open to the potential of moving beyond these constraints. When we practice an asana, the first thing we notice is the spots where we haven't yet yielded beyond the boundaries of our existing expression. This is a common source of pain.

    Our expectations of how enjoyable a Yoga session would be are frequently dashed the first time we bend forward and feel the agonizing pull of our hamstring muscles. If this were the only thing that happened, we'd have a very high attrition rate, but thankfully, we have the option to take it a step further by engaging in a discussion with this tension.


    COMING TOGETHER WITH THE BREATHE


    We begin to link our consciousness to our breath and utilize the breath to "palpate" and sense stress points. As we breathe, we begin to notice that each breath has three phases: emerging, dissolving, and stopping.

    We learn to coordinate our practice such that we expand with the entering breath, relax effort on the outgoing breath, and halt in the quiet between these two phases while we take in the symphony of experience. We grow familiar with the natural rhythm of life as it originates from stillness, unfolds into form, and then dissolves back into stillness as we grow expert at connecting our breath, body, and mind into one movement.

    We begin to accept the notion that everything is changing and in flux, and that we can ride the wave of change with competence. We also learn that sensations, ideas, and feelings do not have to solidify as they move through us. They don't have to become knots of tension inside of us. Rather of being uptight, we might be a person who experiences tension on occasion. That is, none of these fleeting feelings are required to solidify and integrate our identity. As we gain experience, our body consciousness becomes more pliable, allowing us to adapt and adopt whichever expression best fits the moment.


    PERFECTING OUR RELATIONSHIP WITH THE POWER OF LIFE


    As we gain experience, we adjust our stance in each pose so that prana, or life energy, can flow freely through us. To do so, we must first define our relationship to the earth, gravity, and space, as well as the harmonic interaction that exists between each component of the body and the entire. This entails developing a dynamic tension that allows us to become excellent conduits for prana's animating activity. We are physically realigning ourselves with the pulsing of the cosmos.

    We struggle to rebuild balance between ourselves and the world after falling out of step with this basic rhythm. This harmony is manifested when we can sit elegantly, stand tall, stroll gracefully, and lie down comfortably. This reanimation of the body cannot be accomplished simply by placing it in a certain posture. Inquiry characterized by curiosity, innocence, and fun leads to the discovery of our inherent rhythm.

    When we apply these three traits to our inquiry, we begin to feel more at ease with the unknown. The executive ego begins to relax, and our external orders fade away, allowing us to become open to the wisdom body's knowledge. We naturally know how to align our bodies—how to release our barriers and holding positions.

    A teacher can assist us in developing this awareness, but ultimately, establishing our inner harmony is an internal process. If we are open to it, the body will propose modest modifications in position that will improve our alignment. The trick is to cease overpowering our inner instincts with our brain and instead trust them. We lead the movement by sense and experiencing, as well as moment-to-moment deduction, rather than the habitual mind's ambition (involved as it typically is in quantity rather than quality, aim rather than process).

    We learn to wait for opening moments when the body says yes and allows us to go further into a movement thanks to this inner direction. We also learn to respectably halt at the edge of our resistance and listen to our bodies' nay. Working in this manner allows us to open up new channels without damaging ourselves, and because the body has guided us into this new opening, it will certainly be a shift that we can fully integrate.


    STILLNESS AND MOVING INTO STILLNESS


    As we deepen our asana practice, we bring our attention to the stillness that exists between, inside, and throughout every movement. When we sit in meditation, hold a posture, or become aware of the still interval between two breaths, this awareness is most easily available. Our awareness of this stillness becomes prevalent as we progress through the levels of practice.

    When we get entirely united with the movement, we might have this sense of stillness inside the movement. This is not something we can force to happen, but rather something that comes as a result of consistent practice and grace. We eventually become more than just conscious of quiet; we become stillness.


    Concentrated asana practice, the third limb of Ashtanga Yoga, will automatically incorporate each of the other seven limbs of practice, notably the ten ethical precepts of the yamas and niyamas, if done with a conscious knowledge of the objective of Yoga, which is to attain a unitive condition (the first two limbs).


    We may learn to accept our limits (ahimsa), be sincere in our resolve to do our best (satya), and be satisfied regardless of the results by practicing asanas (santosha). 

    We can bring our fervent interest (tapas) to the practice, examine our reactions and responses to challenge and ease (swadhyaya), and finally give our practice to something more than ourselves (ishvarapranidhana).

    The breath becomes a whole-body phenomena when we establish our correct relationship to the earth, gravity, and space. When this occurs, we begin to perceive ourselves as life force conduits, with energy continuity throughout our bodies (pranayama, the fourth limb of Yoga).


    As we learn more about asana, we'll discover that it entails purposefully entering into stillness (pratyahara, the fifth limb), focusing our attention on one item at a moment (dharana, the sixth limb), and maintaining this awareness regardless of what's going on around us (dhyana, the seventh limb). When a posture is mastered, a perfect balance between effort and noneffort is achieved, resulting in the neutralization of all sensations.


    When this occurs, the mind returns to its natural state of stillness (samadhi, the eighth limb). There's no one left to execute the position; it's just the position going through us. It may be a joyful homecoming to return to the body via asana practice. For many, it will be like seeing an old friend after a long time. For others, it will be a tear-jerking reunion.

    The body is permitted to express its mind while the discursive mind recedes into the shadows of consciousness. We may have intriguing dreams, whirlwind emotions, and insights that drive action if we allow ourselves to experience profound physiological rest and the renewal that comes with it. We may decide to make adjustments in our lives as a result of these fresh understanding.

    Perhaps we'll modify our diet, leave an unhappy career, quit an unhealthy relationship (or reaffirm our devotion to a good one), or embrace a lifestyle that better reflects our ideals. We could decide to start a creative project that has been on our minds for a long time.


    In other words, we begin to live a life guided as much by the dictates of the heart and guts as by the logic of the head. 


    We may discover that we have a completely new navigational system with which to navigate our life. Not only do we have the logical mind's valuable compass, but we also have our body's sensate and responsive machinery to alert us to even the tiniest changes.

    We begin to recognize our sentiments and allow those sensations to guide our actions. We become aware of the earliest indicators of sickness and have a higher chance of preventing full-blown sickness through early care. 

    We begin to believe that the body possesses a unique type of knowledge that we may tap into if we are humble enough to listen. And we begin to consider our physical knowledge, particularly when it contradicts our best-laid plans, and to reevaluate the wisdom of those plans. 


    While yogis have long cautioned against mistaking the map for the terrain, embodied awareness is an important aspect of the yogic tradition.


    We definitely have bodies, but don't make the mistake of believing you're just your body. From an absolute standpoint, the body is not what is everlasting in us; rather, what is eternal lives via the body. If we don't make this distinction, we'll be upset when our bodies eventually age or when we're unable to accomplish things we used to be able to accomplish due to illness.

    The Brihadaranyaka Upanishad contains a lovely set of affirmations that tells us how to discern this distinction: A lady loves her husband not for his own reason, but because he is the embodiment of the Self. A husband loves his wife not because she is beautiful in and of herself, but because she is the embodiment of the Self.


    Children are adored not because they are cute, but because they contain the Self. 


    Wealth is cherished not for its own sake, but because it houses the Self. The cosmos is adored not because it contains the Self, but because it contains the Self. The gods are adored not because they are gods in and of themselves, but because they contain the Self. Creatures are adored not because the Self is within them, but because the Self resides within them.

    Everything is adored not because it is beautiful in and of itself, but because the Self is within everything.  We may simply add a line that says: The body is adored not for its own sake, but because it houses the Self. Yogis were acutely aware of the paradox of cultivating dispassion for the body while still acknowledging it as the transitory home of a heavenly Self. More to the point, we can only experience awareness in the body.

    We must travel through the body; we cannot go around it, as Patanjali explains so clearly in his explanation on the method of realizing this Self. As a result, unlike many other religions that see the body as something to be transcended, the Yoga tradition instructs us to make the body's home a healthy place to dwell. In recent years, the practice of asana, also known as hatha yoga, has become associated with yoga. This is regrettable.


    The perfection of asanas was never intended to be the objective of Yoga practice, and standing on our heads for an hour will not mark a great spiritual milestone. 


    This misunderstanding is reasonable, given our fixation with appearance and demand for tangible proof of achievement. Traditionally, asana practice was only a tiny portion of Yoga, but it was seen as an important aspect of the discipline. The postures are designed to gradually fine-tune the body, making it strong but flexible, vigilant but calm.

    The neurological system gets fine-tuned as a result of this, and our senses become incredibly discriminating. This was thought to be essential before undertaking the rigors of meditation. It was also realized that carrying out such activities while simultaneously fulfilling our responsibilities in the world would need a tremendous amount of energy, which would be unavailable if we were sick or ill. Hatha yoga was designed to fulfill this wider objective in this manner. These practical advantages are not insignificant.

    They can determine whether we are able to achieve our life's goal or not. When the asanas are separated from the greater conceptual context of Yoga as a life practice, they become little more than a glorified stretching routine. The goal of asana practice is to become more sensitive, attentive, and adaptable. In the framework of Yoga as a life practice, whether or not we have remarkable gymnastic ability becomes completely irrelevant.


    We have merely substituted one false identity with another if we get fascinated with the execution of advanced postures and set our identity on these achievements.

    Many newcomers to Yoga make the same error when selecting a teacher, assessing the instructor's skills only on the basis of his or her ability to do difficult exercises. We won't feel like we're failing if we can't achieve challenging postures if we recognize what we're working for isn't a physical form but an inside understanding of the reality of who we are.

    Any movement that gets us closer to this revelation of our actual nature is considered "advanced" practice. The simplest physical activity becomes richly filled with significance when we keep this greater objective in mind. Opening our fingers, feeling the soles of our feet on the ground, or the impression of lightness that comes with standing straight can all be pleasurable experiences. The body therefore becomes a holy sanctuary, where the worshiped, the worshiper, and the location of worship all become One.


    Yoga's purpose is to achieve oneness, which is the definition of the word.

    We have explored the overarching relevance of the ten ethical precepts, the yamas and niyamas, and the way in which our relationships with others appropriately reflect our understanding of this oneness while pursuing Ashtanga Yoga's eight-limb path.

    We've also discussed the need of disciplining our consciousness and behaviors in order to channel our energy toward this aim. We embody these understandings via asana practice, putting them directly into our tissue, bones, and blood to feel this connection profoundly via our form.

    The third limb of Ashtanga Yoga, pranayama, provides us with a useful instrument that we may use at any time: our breath. Like our pulse, our breath is the most consistent rhythm in our life. Our breath may gradually educate us to return to the natural quietness of the mind if we get attentive to this continual pattern.


    You may also want to read more about Yoga here.

    You may also want to read more about Mindfulness Meditation and Healing here.