When I decided to stay in a Yoga Ashram for a week, I initially intended to get away from the hustle and bustle of city life. I had enough of the rat race. I started to feel it was becoming harder for me to bounce back from a week of corporate-induced stress. In short, I really needed a break.
When I saw what my daily program was going to be like, I realised it wasn’t going to be a “vacation”. It was going to be a radical commitment to my self and my own self-care.
What I was in for was embedded in the words Yoga and Ashram. Yoga means unity of mind, body and spirit. Ashram means a place of inner work. Put these together and you’ve got yourself a journey to truly get to know yourself if you choose to.
Like most people, I came to know about yoga through the Hatha Yoga practice – y’know, the one that is being held in studios or gyms and makes you go into these different body positions, or what they call asanas. In my Hatha Yoga practice, I eventually became aware of the various ways I hold tension in my body and of my mind-talk whenever a position would get challenging.
When I came to the ashram, it started to become very apparent to me that yoga is actually being aware of every part of my self – my body, my senses, my thoughts, my feelings, my energy, in every moment.
Yoga doesn’t stop on the mat. Each moment at the ashram was a chance to let the unconscious become conscious. I partook in daily Karma Yoga duties, wherein I was rostered to different chores that were not of my choosing. I cleaned the Sadhana Room (practice room). I took out the ashram laundry and hung clothes. I cleaned the kitchen after lunch every day. I pulled out weeds from the garden. I swept floors and wiped dirty walls.
There I was at a very peaceful place specifically intended to help foster spiritual growth and in the middle of a forest with like-minded people, but the sounds of my personal unhealthy tendencies had become very loud and apparent.
I saw myself pushing to do things perfectly. I was rushing to finish my tasks. I wanted to tick off an invisible list. The shadows of my over-achieving self were in the faces of the people I worked with. I was aiming for someone to be proud of me. My yearning for fulfilment was stemming from my ego self.
We had been told “Just do what you can, this is a very relaxed environment,” but the voices from my childhood appending the request with an “or else” were not present. Every scrub, every wipe, every weed pulled were opportunities for active self-observation FULL STOP.
All I was being asked of during my stay was to observe my body, my senses, my thoughts, my feelings, my energy. All I needed to do was allow the awareness to come up. Nothing more. There was no need to ask the whys, the hows, the what nows.
It was a big opportunity for me to hear that the voices who were pushing me where inside of me, not in front of me. To experience that I was safe, nurtured and that I’d still be able to eat and have a bed no matter if I didn’t finish or didn’t perfect what I was asked to do. To realise that this time, it was up to me to give myself kindness.
In the space of self-observation, I reconnected with the eternal part of me.
With self-observation, there eventually developed a space. A space between the action, the doer and the unchangeable. My human self being the doer. My bodily sensations, my thoughts, my feelings and my energy being my actions. And the unchangeable being the ever-present part of me.
As I lived, breathed, spoke, and thought each day, I noticed the moving parts of my being and I noticed the stillness behind her. She is the ever-present part of me.
She is the one who was there when I first learned to tie my shoe laces. When I got my first academic bronze medal. When I walked in to my school dormitory. When I got drunk in college. When I walked down the aisle. When I birthed my first daughter. When I rode an airplane for the first time. When I drove through the forest to find an ashram.
“I” have always been here. Everything about me and everything around me may have changed over the years, but this eternal unchangeable part of me has always stayed with me over the years (and even lifetimes).
Even if all I did was become aware, there’s something about having reconnected with this part of me that has me centred again and enlivened. In this reunion, I realise I’m never alone. Its the state when people say “I’m happy for no reason.”
This eternal part of me is the one who is nurturing, the one who is kind, the one who is compassionate, the one who is loving and, most of all, the one who is my eternal best friend.
If you would like to develop this as well, below are a few ways you can practice self-observation. In each of these, your starting point is always your breath and so is your loving companion.
You breathe 21,600 times a day. You touch every part within you 21,600 times a day. You are never alone.
You can pick one of the following ways to practice for as little as one minute a day or you can choose to bring the awareness throughout your daily activities.
1. Do a body scan. Bring conscious awareness to every part of your body from head to foot, to the big parts and to the small parts, even to the places that you don’t normally feel, like the back of your head or the top of your feet.
2. Practice sensory awareness. Bring conscious awareness to what you see, what you hear, what you smell, what you taste (or the current taste in your mouth), and what you feel. No matter if it seems like you see, you hear, you smell, you taste and you feel the same things all the time, I invite you to bring a childlike wonder to what your senses perceive.
3. Notice your thoughts. This shouldn’t be too hard, right?! You’re probably in your head 90% of the time thinking of what you need to do – what’s for dinner, and so on and so forth. But this time, I encourage you to be an observer to your thoughts instead of being a participant.
4. Be curious with your feelings. Allow yourself to drop into your heart space and observe what’s sitting there. You may feel sad one moment and happy the next moment or you may feel happy on the surface with a different feeling hiding underneath.
5. Feel into your presence. Your presence is the level, depth and breadth of your energy at this moment. You may be feeling light or heavy. You may be feeling warm or cold. You may be feeling absolutely expanded or completely closed. It’s how you present yourself to the world.
When you practice this kind of self-observation, I invite you to bring kindness to yourself and know that you don’t have to get it right (you can bring curiosity even to not getting it right!). Eventually, cultivating this kind of awareness with yourself may help give a clearer picture to you about yourself or not. What you do with it is up to you.
A flavour of this piece has been published on The Urban Howl.
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