What stories do you tell yourself about your life, and the way things are in your world?
Do you tell yourself, perhaps, that you can never change a particular habit that makes you unhappy? Do you tell yourself you can’t possibly find a partner who will love you? Maybe you think that you cannot possibly ever be successful in your chosen field? All these and more are stories that I, and many others, have running around in the mind.
And they are totally true.
At least, as long as we believe they are.
The things we tell ourselves become our reality. It is often said that the words ‘I AM’ are the two most powerful words in the English language, because the things you put after them shape exactly what you become.
“I am ugly, weird, and mostly friendless” was one of my stories throughout my childhood. This created a very powerful reality for me, and holds the root of much future unhappiness.
You don’t know what you don’t know
You may not even realise that you have these stories running in your head. These stories start in childhood, long before you are capable of discerning fact from story. They simply become part of the unconscious monologue that runs constantly through the mind, barely noticeable, but affecting every decision you make.
We need to develop a keen awareness of the stories we are telling ourselves, so that we can take action to change them. Until we know why we believe we are incapable of finding love, success or personal growth, we will subconsciously sabotage our efforts every time. As I discussed in an earlier post, we need to ‘still the whirlpools of the unconscious mind’ in order to see clearly. Swirling water in a pond stirs things up, but it is only when the pond becomes clear that you can see what lives there.
The Third of the Sutras tells us that when we find this stillness in the unconscious mind, “Then the seer is established in the form of its real Being” (from Understanding the Yoga Darshan by Dr Ananda Balayogi Bhavanani) This means that when we find, and live in this stillness, we can become our True Self, rather than the being we think we are, confused as we are by all the stories.
This takes dedicated practice and time, but we can begin to reap the benefits of the quest to find this stillness as soon as we begin. Just starting to be aware of how unconsciously you live, and taking small steps towards awareness, starts to make a difference.
The concept of the Four Fold Awareness of Yoga highlights the importance of developing this awareness. The Four Fold Awareness is the path to awareness of body, mind and spirit.
Awareness of the body
The first stage, Awareness of the body, helps you to connect to the body, to learn to value and notice everything it does for you, and to tune into its needs. In the modern world, we have, to a large extent, become quite disconnected from the body.
We eat mindlessly while walking, working, or watching TV, without much thought for the food we are eating or what it is doing to and for our body. We fill the body with toxins in the form of processed food, coffee, processed sugar, alcohol, cigarettes, drugs, polluted air.
We might not do enough exercise, or we might go the other way and punish the body through too much high impact exercise. We spend far too much time sitting down, hunched over computers and phones, or sitting in cars or public transport.
We live in a high stress, ever connected, over-stimulating world that makes us think we are lazy if we are not constantly doing or consuming. We barely even notice we are breathing until we have respiratory problems.
We often treat our bodies as if we have another to turn to when we break this one, then wonder why our society has so many chronic illnesses, addictions and sleep disorders.
Developing awareness of the body helps to you really tune into what your body does for you, and what it needs to do it better. Yoga helps you to become aware of your posture, and how this affects how your body feels. You start to tune into what your body needs to be healthy, and what doesn’t suit it. You learn to read the signals your body gives you, and act accordingly.
Awareness of Emotions
The next stage of Awareness is the awareness of the emotions, and the effect they have on the body, and how we interact with the body. When you are able to become aware of the connection between your emotions and your body, you start to notice the way that your feelings affect, for example, your posture.
I remember the moment I realised I was in an emotionally abusive relationship some years ago, I suddenly became painfully aware that my posture had changed completely, and I held myself as if I was trying to curl myself into a ball and retreat from the world. Which, of course, is exactly what I was trying, unconsciously, to do.
The emotions have a huge impact on how we hold the body. If you feel happy and confident, you step out into the world straight backed, head held high, looking the world in the eye with a smile on your face. The unhappy person does what I did in that relationship, closing the body down, retreating and trying to hide.
The emotions affect physical health as well. You only have to look at the symptoms of stress, both short and long term, to know that what happens in the mind affects the body.
How you feel affects how you treat the body as well. As well as the obvious ‘drowning the sorrows in alcohol’, emotional eating is a classic example, and one which I know I still sometimes turn to. You feel unhappy and your thoughts tell you that a bar of chocolate will help. While you are eating the chocolate, it is nice, sweet, and it gives you the dopamine hit you need to feel better. But then the chocolate is gone, and you may want more, or you may now feel slightly sick from too much sugar. Either way, it hasn’t really made you feel better, the thing that made you feel bad is still there, and now you are on a sugar craving cycle.
When you are able to recognise the emotions, you can begin to develop other strategies to deal with them.
Awareness of thoughts
The next level of awareness is awareness of the thoughts. While knowing what your body wants, and knowing that the emotions that are creating desires in you are just that, you need to get your mind to ‘behave’ if you want to make the changes sustainable.
When faced with a desire for a “comfort chocoolate”, you need to be able to control the thoughts that are telling you ‘oh, just this once, it will be ok, one bar of chocolate* (*or whatever else you are craving) won’t hurt”. It is important to recognise that the thoughts we think, all 60,000 of them each day, drive our every action, even, and especially, the ones we aren’t aware of.
This comes back to the stories I was talking about at the start of this post. Developing awareness of the thoughts helps us to see that these thoughts are just stories, and we can choose to accept them or write new ones.
Awareness of Awareness
This final level of awareness is the goal of Yoga, enlightenment, or Bliss. It is a very high level of awareness that can only come once a person has achieved total mastery over the body, emotions and thoughts. This may not be achievable in one lifetime, fortunately for the ancient yogis who devised the system of Yoga, they came from a tradition that believed in reincarnation of the soul, so they believed they had many lifetimes in which to master this. We may not reach this fourth level of awareness in this lifetime, but we will gain enormous benefits if we take the journey to get there
You can do this!
This is not an easy quest, but then what quest worth embarking on is? It is a quest that requires commitment and consistency, but you do not need to go and live in an ashram in order to get benefits from it. If you make even the smallest efforts, such as a regular Yoga practice, you will reap many rewards in physical, mental, emotional health, and spiritual growth.
The topic of awareness is the first of the 5 training sessions I am discussing in the Recovering You webinar series. This series will be looking at how Yoga can impact your life in so many ways beyond the physical postures.
The webinars, which will take place from 8.30pm GMT today (8 January) are
- Monday Jan 8 – Stop and notice – developing awareness of your body, your thoughts and emotions
- Tuesday Jan 9 – Becoming a better you – working with the Yamas and Niyamas to improve your life
- Wednesday Jan 10 – Grateful for gratitude – how living with gratiutude can give you more to be grateful for
- Thursday Jan 11 – Relax and recover – some powerful and simple ways to tackle stressful moments
- Friday Jan 12 – Getting to know you – the importance of self study and really getting to understand yourself
Find out more here, or sign up below
If you sign up after the week is over, you will still get access to the training, which will be delivered to you via email