Growing Awareness Through Yoga
Have you ever noticed how easy it is for things to hide in plain sight? At one point or another, we’ve all stopped what we were doing to look for the phone or pen that was already in our hand. Or, we’ve become convinced that something was lost or stolen when it was in fact only a few inches away from where we expected it to be. When our gaze finally shifts enough to see what we’re looking for, or it dawns on us that we’re already holding the phone we’re searching for, we can’t help but laugh at ourselves for our mistake. But sometimes, a lack of awareness isn’t quite so funny. In more serious circumstances, lacking awareness can cause us to not understand why we aren’t getting along with a coworker, friend, or family member. Other times, we find ourselves awash in stress or anger than seems to have no clear cause.
Possessing a sense of inner awareness allows us to see things as they are, making sense of the habits and actions that cause hardship for ourselves and others so that we can change our patterns of behavior and build happier, healthier lives. Yoga allows us to nurture this power of awareness by clearing space in our minds and teaching us to recognize our shared inner divinity.
This Little Light of Ours: Purusha
In yoga, we often throw around phrases like mindfulness, being present, or focusing on our breath during our practices. These go-to sayings become guideposts for dictating how we flow through asanas or setting the tone for our practice as a whole. When we take these practices to heart and infuse our yoga journey with intentional breathing and meditative mindfulness, we often feel like a new person by the time we roll up our yoga mats.
More than once, I’ve arrived at a class at Your Yoga Louisville feeling the stress of the day weighing heavily on my shoulders, but left the studio feeling light and optimistic. That problem that had me feeling nauseous an hour earlier now seems small and insignificant; the anger I was harboring against that person who had wronged me disperses, leaving a sense of calmness and understanding in its wake.
As we slow down and turn our focus inward by using our thoughts, breaths, and bodies in harmony in a yoga practice, we clear away the outer layers of mental and emotional haze that otherwise clouds our thoughts. In clearing those layers away, our inner divine light of awareness, or Purusha (sometimes spelled Purusa), to shine through. As it does, we get a greater sense of clarity and awareness with which to reframe our outlook.
Why Awareness Matters
Purusha the spark of divine light in each of us that connects us with and is a part of the divine light that exists within the whole of the universe. In less spiritual terms, it is a sense of clarity and connectedness that allows us to see things as they are, free from the filters of our own expectations and biases. We can open space for this in our lives by practicing yoga regularly, with intentionality in what we do– by not just showing up to our yoga classes because it’s part of our routine, but because we want to grow as happy, healthy people.
The more we clear our minds of mental clutter and cultivate awareness in our daily lives, the easier it is to see the Purusha living in all other beings that connects us to them, freeing us of judgment and enabling us to act in kinder, more compassionate ways. Or, as Nicolai Bachman puts it in The Path of the Yoga Sutras
One goal of practicing yoga is to reach the state in which our decisions and actions are based on perceiving our environment clearly and accurately, illuminated by the inner light of awareness, as opposed to functioning with clouded perception, induced by our ego to think we are nothing but the chatter and habitual patterns active in our mind.
Let Your Light Shine Through
The next time you go to a yoga class, see what happens if you really focus on your breath. Don’t worry about moving through the asanas at the same pace or in the same capacity as your classmates. Just focus on moving with your breath and coming into your fullest expression of each pose.
As you feel your thoughts drifting to the events of your day or those around you, quiet your thoughts by going back to your breath. That can be as simple as thinking “I am breathing in” as you inhale and “I am breathing out” as you exhale. Each time your thoughts drift, gently guide yourself back to your breath.
Quieting those inner voices and distractions isn’t easy, but as you practice it, that clarifying light of Purusha will shine through, giving you the awareness to leave class feeling like a brand new person.