Yoga Journal art director Melissa Newman shares four tips for harnessing yoga's power to deepen self-awareness.
The beauty of yoga, as I’m realizing more and more during our Yoga Pod teacher training, is that there’s something in it for every soul who comes to it. It’s widely known that yoga is a powerful tool that contributes to our overall well-being; but the true challenge—at least for this yogi—lies in harnessing the practice’s power to reach a point of self-awareness, self-improvement, and/or self-acceptance.
As we age, we grow more self-aware, more comfortable in our own skin, and oftentimes more content with that one piece or multiple pieces of ourselves we wish we could change but don’t have the time or energy to. For some, this bit of self-awareness is enough. For others, self-awareness is a lifelong journey, with a desire to constantly look inward and find aspects to improve upon or release. I fall more into the latter category, and as someone relatively new to yoga, I’m finding out just how powerful a tool for growth this practice can be.
When I began this journey, I made the mental commitment to make this training about more than just learning to teach yoga or geeking out on Sanskrit. This journey is about self-study and about how we can take that awareness and use it to release some of the negative, nervous energy we constantly feel swirling around inside—an energy I’ve found to be of no use in my day-to-day life.
On and off our mats, we are constantly encouraged to turn inward and figure out our inner self and how that aligns with our outer self. Sometimes the results of this interior journey are far from what we’ve envisioned, and we find this discrepancy reflected in our outward persona. For example, I may feel confident inside about my knowledge of the poses, but when I go to lead my partner in a practice teaching, I cannot find my voice and doubt takes over. Another example is letting the stress of my job get to me and oftentimes finding myself projecting negative energy in the workplace when I know it’s not helpful to me or to others and not at all my intention. I’ve been able to recognize I need to work on closing the gap between inner and outer self in order to be my best possible self.
4 Pearls of Wisdom for Conscious Living
Here are several pearls of wisdom we’ve been given throughout the training to which I find myself constantly returning on this journey of self-exploration:
1. Accept that perfection is not an attainable goal.
In fact, perfection isn’t even possible, so let that go right now. The real physical goal is to find freedom and peace in the asana and the practice. You do not need to master these poses to feel their benefits. Each time you step on your mat, remind yourself that it is a safe place to explore—physically, emotionally, mentally—so treat it as such. Once you free yourself of any other expectations, you can start to reap all the benefits.
2. The edge of discomfort is your friend, not your enemy.
The edge gets discussed a lot in yoga classes. (And no, I don’t mean the U2 guitarist.) Some days, teachers will direct you to breathe into your discomfort to go deeper; other days, you’re told to find this edge but not push past it. The important thing is to discover that edge and respect it—whether it’s physical, emotional, or mental—because it’s a learning tool rather than an obstacle. Sometimes it’s good to challenge yourself to remain in the discomfort a while longer, and other times it’s good to lean into it to get to the other side.
3. Use those around you as a mirror for self-reflection.
The qualities we recognize in the people around us relate directly to the qualities we have inside ourselves. Whether you have a positive or negative reaction, accept that each experience can be eye-opening and an opportunity for growth. Work on cultivating the traits you like and releasing the ones you don’t.
4. Constantly express love and gratitude for yourself and those around you.
This whole process of growth and self-acceptance stems from the love you have for yourself. When you are able to tap into this, the light you carry will affect everyone around you and attract much of the same light in return. Gratitude is something we often forget to vocalize, so take the time to share these thoughts as often as possible.
Next time I find myself thinking, “Why don’t I look like her/him in Utkatasana?” I will turn my focus inward and remember that, for today, this is as good as it gets for me and that’s OK. My journey of self-study will obviously take longer than the duration of the training, but this experience has helped me set roots to keep exploring in my practice long after we’re done. I couldn’t be more grateful.