You will often hear yoga teachers say, “become aware of your breath” or “draw your awareness to [body part].” The awareness we are cultivating in yoga is not meant for us to judge these areas and obsess over them, but rather to deepen our ability to pay attention. Paying attention to our breath and body in yoga or in any physical activity gives us knowledge about what is going on with our body when it is moving in a particular way so that we can make adjustments as needed. Awareness gives us a focal point so that we can let go of what is not important in that moment and helps prevent injury. Obsession, on the other hand, is the opposite of letting go. It causes tension in the body and mind, making injury more likely. The only balance between these two is to let obsession dissolve into awareness so that whatever change need be made comes with ease instead of fight.
Awareness keeps us challenged, yet also prevents us from taking unnecessary risks. Awareness of the breath in poses, along with paying attention to what’s going on in the body, whether we are feeling pain or ease or lax, helps us better determine whether or not we need to back off, stay right where we are, or go deeper. It is a moment of noticing something within ourselves without attaching our own judgement, so that when our attention beacons us elsewhere, we let go and transition with ease to the next point of focus. The same is true when we move through our day aware of our surroundings. The more aware we are of others, our interactions, and our environment, the more likely we are to make the best decisions in the moment.
Obsession distracts us from ease-filled focus. Often in balancing poses when we obsess over our falling out, it becomes that much more difficult to come back into the balance or to smoothly transition to the next pose. Obsession blocks our ability to let go and can cause us to dwell on a thought, our appearance, or how we feel to such a degree that we lose touch with the reality of the now and become encumbered by the illusion of the past and future. We wish we wouldn’t have fallen, or we wish we were thinner or stronger. But obsession is not entirely bad if we can become aware of it. When we notice that we obsess over a certain area of the body or past event or future desire, we can begin taking steps to dissolve obsession into awareness. This may take time and patience on our part, but if the awareness is there and the desire to let go is there, progress will be made, even if only in incremental steps.
Steps to Dissolving Obsession
- Become aware of obsession: when you are in Corpse Pose (Savasana) and are still thinking about falling out of tree pose earlier, you are not existing in the moment. You have allowed a past moment to distract you from the reality of the now.
- Breathe: When in doubt, when in anger, when in frustration, when in bliss, when in life, always remember to breathe. If you have become aware of an obsession and are not sure how to let it go, take a deep breath in and a longer deep breath out. It is the breath out that calms the nervous system, moving you closer to a place of ease, and it is the focus on the breath that brings you back into the now.
- Be Present: Thoughts might drift to past or to future, so check in with yourself to be sure you are focused on what you are doing in the moment.
- Notice without judgement: It is good to discern by the way you are feeling in the moment whether or not you should modify or come out of a pose. But refrain from attachment judgements, like, I’m weak, or, I hate my belly fat. Instead simply observe and move, and if judgements do come, observe them and work towards offering yourself gratitude for taking time for yourself.
- Smile: Obsession rarely, if ever, leaves us smiling. It usually causes furrowed brows, a tense jaw, and shoulders that are way too close to our ears. We begin to close in instead of opening up because though awareness does draw our attention inward, we are still present and moving and relaxed because we when we don’t judge what we notice, we move with greater ease both in our bodies and through life. And when we are at ease, we smile. From personal experience, when I smile during a moment of obsession, I find letting go, letting obsession dissolve into awareness that much easier. I become amused by myself instead of displeased with myself.
Wear Your Awareness
It is a great thing to be fully aware during your yoga practice; it is an excellent thing to be fully aware in life. The reason there are so many awareness campaigns for various cancers, diseases, or other health-related issues is because awareness is the first step to overcoming life’s challenges. And while it’s not necessary to walk around with a ribbon showing your support for awareness, you can walk with your head up, pay attention to people, to the spaces you occupy, to what happens in the atmosphere when you or others enter or leave, to what happens in your body when you eat this or drink that. Being aware of yourself and others, the space, what you consume, and how what you consume affects you, whether it be a candy bar or a sitcom, you can begin to more easily let go of those things you no longer need. Obsessions and even bad habits dissolve, not because you scolded yourself, but because you allowed yourself to operate in the reality of the now. If you’re in tree pose now: focus on the breath, keeping the standing foot rooted with equal weight in the ball and heel, strong in the legs, engaging the core, lengthening through the spine, relaxing the shoulders, light through the crown of the head, and if you’re wondering why you keep falling, why you can’t just balance, become aware of your breath and repeat and when it is time to move to the next pose, let tree go, and move on.