Awareness is important, not solely because we don’t want to get run over as we cross the street but because it provides us with an opportunity to live a happy and blissful life.
Asanas are about the alignment of the body. Even the Tadasana (standing straight) forces us to focus on every aspect of the body: “Feet together, big toes touching, ankles touching. Spread the feet wide and distribute the weight evenly through the feet. Pull the arches of your feet and the muscles of the legs upwards. Engage the muscles above the knee by pressing into the base of the big toe.”
And these are the instructions only for the legs. In a perfectly aligned asana, the muscles, joints, bones and even the skin are all set in a particular way. This takes some effort, but eventually, we become aware of every part of the body.
Pain and awareness:
The other aspect of yoga that forces us to focus is the pain. As the muscles stretch, we will feel pain; more pain when we first begin and less as we progress.
When we feel pain, an ache or an internal stretch of a muscle our awareness immediately shifts to this area.
It is hard to be thinking about the box of chocolate in your fridge when your hip joints are aching as they open outwards.
Many asanas require us to balance – on our feet, arms, or heads.
When we move our bodies into positions that we are not familiar with, the mind is forced to be in the present. If it is not fully focused, you will fall!
Breathing and awareness:
From your first class, your teacher will be reminding you to breathe. At the beginning this seems like a silly instruction, I mean, we must be breathing, otherwise we would be dead. But if you observe more closely, sometimes we hold our breath or don’t breathe deeply. Maintaining a long, deep and even breath throughout the practice is harder than you think.
Dristi or Gaze:
Every asana has a gaze point, or dristi – your fingers, toes, between your eyebrows or your navel. The outside world is distracting, especially if there is a cute guy in the corner of the studio. By directing our gaze to parts of our own body we bring our awareness inwards.
Power of the present:
Day dreaming that Kate Middleton’s wardrobe has suddenly, miraculously been gifted to you is far more blissful than being aware that you are in a huge traffic jam, right? But if you spend the day and the night dwelling on this and imagine yourself walking into the next party wearing an Ellie Saab, you might feel a little disappointed when you open your cupboard.
The gap between our reality and our desires can only lead to unhappiness. Our desires for the future, our nostalgia for the past pull us away from the moment. It is by being aware and present in the moment that we learn to accept and appreciate the beauty of life as it is.
As Eckhart Tolle puts it, “Realize deeply that the present moment is all you have. Make the NOW the primary focus of your life.”