Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Core Qualities of Yoga, Part 8: Self-Awareness

This post is part of a series that explores a variety of core qualities and suggested practices to consider for inclusion in your classes and private sessions (whether on a mat, in a chair, or a combination of both).

by Beth Gibbs

"The path of understanding follows an ascending spiral rather than a straight line."
--Joanna Field

In a nutshell, self-awareness is the process of finding mindful ways to understand oneself at all levels of being. An investigation of self-awareness from the yogic perspective provides a path to Self-awareness with a capital ‘S.’

Self-awareness is closely aligned with our intuitive wisdom, our ability to see, understand, and accept our thoughts, emotions, beliefs, habits, and behavior with compassion and without judgment. When this skill is actively employed, we see our reality as it is, and not hidden behind a veil of wishful thinking or denial. Then we can consciously choose to make changes, remain unchanged with full awareness of the consequences, or find acceptance and peace of mind if change is not possible.

Self-awareness with a capital ‘S’ is less about thinking and more about observing. It’s not a static state. We don’t get it and keep it. It ebbs and flows and changes, but the trick is to observe, understand, and experience the ups and downs of life with clarity, contentment, and resilience.

Here is one of my favorite practices to get in touch with the ability to be Self-aware.

Practice: The Shelf Meditation

The first time Joseph Le Page, my yoga teacher, read this to our class, we were in the Florida sunshine lying on our mats on the grass, feeling warm and peaceful. Here is my summary of this guided meditation. You can record and play it back or use it as a guide for journaling.

1. Make yourself as comfortable as possible. You can lie down, sit up, or settle into any position that will help you relax and feel at ease.

2. Visualize a shelf. It can be made out of anything you like: wood, glass, stone, and so on.

3. Place on the shelf an image of your purse or wallet, cell phone, and symbolically everything connected with your identity that can change: name, address, driver’s license, health insurance card, credit cards, phone number, email, contact lists, Facebook groups, smart phone apps, etc. Notice that everything connected to your identity can be put on the shelf but you are still here, independent of them.

4. Now place on the shelf an image of your friends and family. Remember you are taking a little vacation from them. You will return to them at the end of the exercise. Notice that although they may be dear to you (or not!), you are independent of them.

5. Now place on the shelf all of your life experiences up to this point in time. Include all the joys and sorrows. They too can be independent objects for you to observe. Notice too that the way you perceive these experiences may be very different from the way you perceived them when they happened.

6. Finally, place an image of your body on the shelf and take a look at yourself from outside of your body. Observe with detachment everything and welcome every observation with friendliness and compassion and without judgment. Notice that even your body can be an object to observe.

7. Now notice who is observing everything on the shelf. Try to place that observer on the shelf. You will discover that the observer can’t be placed in space and time like everything else on the shelf. The observer sticks like glue. No matter how hard you try to put it on the shelf, it remains the center of yourself, nearer to you than your body.

8. Notice the qualities of the observer, which is Self-awareness. It is not separate from existence. The world around you and the objects on the shelf are all parts of the same awareness. Notice that unlike everything on the shelf, this Self-awareness is not limited by space. It cannot exist only in the body since the body is on the shelf. It is not limited by time because in the few minutes it took to do this exercise, everything on the shelf may have changed. But this Self-awareness has not.

9. Now notice that this Self-awareness is whole and content. Although it may be a part of life on the shelf, its sense of satisfaction, peace, joy, and enlightenment is innate, and does not depend on interactions with any of the objects on the shelf.

10. Notice this sense of wholeness and allow it to expand through your entire being in a way that feels comfortable. Know that this wholeness, this awareness, this freedom from limitation is your true nature, your true Self-awareness. Rest in this wholeness for as long as you like.

11. As you begin to return to your everyday reality take a moment to reflect on your relationship with everything on the shelf. Has anything changed? Do you see anything differently? Where should you place your priorities? What changes, if any, would you like to make to bring your life into alignment with this sense of wholeness? Reflect, contemplate, journal, or draw about this if you wish.

12. Re-establish your relationship with everything you put on the shelf — your identity, friends, family, and your life experiences. But now do it using any new perceptions you may have gained by exploring your Self-awareness.

It helps to remember that the road to Self-awareness is a marathon – not a sprint. A consistent and personally appropriate yoga and meditation practice provides the needed training.

Elizabeth (Beth) Gibbs, MA, C-IAYT, is a certified yoga therapist through the International Association of Yoga Therapists and is a guest faculty member of the Kripalu School of Integrative Yoga Therapy. Her masters’ degree in Yoga Therapy and Mind/Body Health is from Lesley University in Cambridge, MA. She is the author of Ogi Bogi, The Elephant Yogi, a therapeutic yoga book for children. For more information please visit her website at:

This post was edited by Patrice Priya Wagner, Managing Editor of Accessible Yoga blog and member of the Board of Directors.

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