I drive by the Rio Grande River four days a week. I usually don’t pay much attention to it one way, but on my way home, I always look out over the river. Now, I have to admit, the Rio Grande where I live in New Mexico isn’t quite what you might imagine. It is a smaller, not roaring part of the Rio Grande but it always has water. As I drive over the river, I quickly take init’s beauty, it’s almost like a ritual for me. A number of times I have thought I spotted a duck moving through the river. And I think, oh, interesting. Yesterday, I thought I also saw that duck in the same spot in the river. Today, I drove over the river and looked again and actually saw more clearly that what I thought was a duck, was actually a branch or log sticking out of the river that looked like a duck.

So, was I aware or not aware? Was I allowing my own mind to make up stories about what I thought I should see in the river versus what I was actually seeing? It’s interesting because I really thought it was a duck. I liked thinking it was a duck. But I also thought we don’t really see what’s there all the time.

Awareness is defined by the dictionary as “conscious knowledge of one’s own character, feelings, motives and desires.”

Awareness is a tool we can cultivate on our yoga mat (of course, our awareness comes and goes). We use the concept of witnessing, Vijñānamaya kosha or buddhi mind to help us watch what is happening to us when we practice. We can watch on a physical level, an emotional level and a cognitive level. It is one of the things I appreciate about Tantra Hatha Yoga – it gives me an opportunity to pay attention and to be guided and inquire about what is going on. It’s not just about the physical postures, it’s about noticing how I react or respond while I am going through the postures or when I am doing pranayama (breathwork) or when I am sitting in meditation.

This practice that we do, this idea of becoming more aware, translates off the mat so I can be more aware of what is happening in my mind, my body, my emotions as I move through my day. Many of us go through our day and we don’t notice that we have felt twenty or more different emotions or had 100 or more different thoughts or body sensations. In fact, most of us don’t recognize that we can be feeling more than one thing at a time. I do this for myself in my own practice. When I teach and work with individuals as a yoga therapist I use the same tools to guide others into inquiry and watching. I try and help others see and understand what is happening in their mind, in their body and in their emotions as they practice.

It can be so helpful to do this so we are not always reacting to everything that happens to us. It gives us an opportunity to say, “oh, this is what this feels like right now.” At another moment, it might feel the same or it might feel different. I won’t know until that moment arrives. This process also helps to keep us in the present moment. One of my teachers says that emotions only last 60 seconds but when we buy into the story and start ruminating it can last forever. If we are present to the experience while it is happening, we can leave the experience when it is over. By watching we can also make conscious choices to not watch or witness. To say, “this is too big for me to deal with, work with right now.” We can’t do this, if we aren’t aware. When we are aware, we get to choose.

We work with the idea of awareness to help us be clear about our needs and determine where to put our energy.

Our physical practice on the mat helps us prepare our body to be able to watch – we might do this during meditation, during a walk, or even while moving on the mat. Yoga is a tool to cultivate self-awareness, to look inside. It’s easy to “feel” a door or a doorknob but much harder to step inside.

I hope you can use your practice on the mat to become more aware off the mat.