The unexamined life is not worth living” Socrates.

Around holiday-time I was at Trader Joe’s walking through the parking lot when a woman asked if I needed her cart. She had her hands full while trying to load groceries and a squirming toddler into her car.

I didn’t need a cart but I took it from her because I was aware of what was really being asked. She was really asking for help. Instead of hearing the question literally, my own awareness of the subtext of the situation gave me the choice to help her.

This may seem like a small incident, but it represents a much bigger theme: the power of awareness. Some have even called it a super-power–but we’ll get to that.

What is Self-Awareness?  

Awareness, like mindfulness, is a skill. Which means it is something that we can improve, develop and cultivate. Through cultivating awareness we can get off autopilot, stop sleepwalking through our days, and step into our power to create the best life for ourselves.

Self-awareness is listening to and perceiving your internal environment. It is the ability to notice sensations in your body like muscle tension, stomach tension or shallow breathing. Research even suggests a link between this interoceptive awareness and your sense of self (as in, who you think you are).  

To increase interoception and become more aware of what is happening inside your body is to better understand your actual wants/needs. 

We’ve all been in situations where in hindsight we saw ‘red flags’ or had that feeling that something was ‘off’.  When you tune up your interoception you can get a more accurate read on how you’re feeling in the moment. Awareness gives you this freedom to act on what doesn’t actually serve you.  

Awareness is being able to clearly see the full scope of a situation, and respond consciously to it. Awareness can allow us to better understand and empathize with those we share homes, offices, roads and grocery stores with… but awareness can also help us care for our own selves.

A few years ago I noticed that I didn’t sleep well after watching Law & Order at night. It was difficult to fall asleep and I had bad dreams. Eventually I realized that watching shows about violence and assault before bed might not be a great idea. Crazy right? So I chose to stop watching the show, or anything else disturbing.

When you can’t sleep, you can choose to stop watching the shows that give you nightmares. When you notice you’re sore from sitting in the same position at your desk all day, you can choose to get up and move around. By noticing that jicama on your salad makes you gassy, you can choose to leave it off… or you can choose not to. But either way, you have choice.  

Breath as a Barometer 

The breath can be used as a barometer for our well-being and our stress level. Nature designed our bodies to produce biological responses to stressors to help us survive immediate danger. One of those changes is in how we breathe. When we’re experiencing stress the breath becomes shallow, rapid and often gets stuck up near the shoulders.

Alternately, during stressful situations, the breath might feel like it comes to a standstill and be practically nonexistent.

Stress can show up in the breath before you’re even mentally conscious of it, so the more aware you are aware of your breath, the more you have a head-start on bringing your body out of the stress response and into a more conscious place where you have choice. Following is a simple practice you can do to super-power your awareness of your breath.

Awareness of Breath Practice

We’re often given the cue to ‘become aware of the breath’ or ‘notice the breath’ in a yoga class.  Sometimes it can be challenging to maintain that awareness for more than two or three breaths. To drop deeper into the awareness and maintain it for a longer I like to use the [email protected] ball.  

  1. Lie on your belly and place the [email protected] ball under your navel.
  2. Breathe.
  3. Notice the sensation of the ball in your belly and continue to notice your breath.
  4. Notice what shifts, gives, or changes as time passes.  

Tapping into Resources for Support

Awareness also affords you the ability to appreciate what you do like. With awareness you can realize the positive things in life that bring you peace and joy.  You can track foods, people, activities, etc. that make you feel good, healthy, strong and supported.  

These things that make you feel good are your resources. Awareness makes you cognizant of these resources so you can tap into them when you need them.  

Awareness Through Touch Practice

Think about all of the things you touch, turn, feel and grab every single day. A fantastic way to cultivate greater awareness and reconnect with your body is to experience touch with your hands.  The practice is simple:

  1. Grab any smallish object that you like the look/feel of, a mug, pen, potato… anything!
  2. Sit comfortably with your back supported and a pillow in your lap. 
  3. Spend several minutes feeling the object, noticing the shape, the texture, what it is, and what it feels like. The key is to move slowly and spend several minutes with the object.
  4. Take time and notice how touching this object that you like makes you feel.

Taking on Challenges With Awareness

Awareness also helps you discern if something challenging or uncomfortable was worth it. You know that feeling of not wanting to go out and exercise, then afterward, when you get that natural energizing endorphin high, you are so glad you did?

Building your awareness will help put you back in touch with your ‘gut instincts’. Those feelings and instincts that help guide you toward making healthy choices, even if your pleasure centers don’t ‘feel like it’ in the moment.  

The gut is like a little compass inside each of us that will point us toward choices that help us feel good, healthy and strong. Your gut is often the little voice that tells you you’ll feel better after the run or warns that you’ll feel pretty crappy if you devour an entire pint of cookie dough ice cream. Your gut can help inform you whether or not you’re on the right track.

For our final practice, I’m going to invite you into an exercise that will help you differentiate productive discomfort that is beneficial, from bad pain to avoid.

Awareness of Body Cues Practice

Let’s play with shifting our awareness into our body, specifically the gluteus maximus.

  1. Grab a therapy ball and lie down on your back with your knees bent and feet on the floor in constructive rest.  
  2. Place the ball under your right buttock, any meaty part will do, and allow your right knee to fall open to the right.
  3. Notice the sensation. After a few moments you may notice a shift in the sensation. What has changed? Stay for about 90 seconds then take the ball away.
  4. Notice: How does the right side feel compared to the left side? How do your pants feel against your right leg? How has the range of motion changed? Are there feelings of relief or release that let you know that was a good idea? Now do the other side.

So how is self-awareness a superpower?

Well, let me break it down: Awareness can help you overcome seemingly insurmountable objects–kind of like being able to fly. It also gives you x-ray vision into the truth of a situation like being able to read minds. Plus it helps you see the future by attuning to your own gut instincts about whether a choice will serve you or not. I hope you feel your own capacity to tap into this superpower–the power of self-awareness.

 

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Lace

This is one of yoga’s greatest gifts for me. As someone who is so easily distracted, the quiet time I spend in my practice allows me to slow down and pay attention. Most times, it’s imperfect; I often find myself drifting in and out of awareness. But it’s the noticing, and the constant effort of bringing the attention back that makes the practice so beautiful. There’s one thing mentioned in the blog that particularly stuck with me: Awareness gives you x-ray vision into the truth of a situation like being able to read minds. Reading and understanding others really has… Read more »

Abi Rose

In the past I have gone through times when I felt very disconnected from my own interoception. With years of practice and study, mainly in yoga but also in other healing modalities, I found my way back to myself. I consciously wished to relocate and then strengthen my awareness and be able to utilize this skill in all areas of my life. This post is provides beautiful examples of using embodied practices including touch and self-massage to access this ability within all of us.

Kristin Kandyba

Self awareness is one of the greatest gifts of practicing yoga. I’ve integrated the yogic practices of breath awareness, using a dristi and interception into other physical practices such a running and strength training, and it helps a lot. I also find rolling helps to bring me into my body more. And the more I am in my body, the more alive I feel!

Gen

Self-awareness leads us to live the present moment and thus to reduce stress and increase our joy of life. I like to think that by controlling my breath I control my life.

Mélanie Ouellet

Awareness is the most powerful key to engaging change. I find that Yoga Tune up is a great way to connect with yourself. Thank you.

Bianka Champagne

Interesting text.
Indeed, being more conscious allows us to listen more to our body, our needs and what makes us feel good. It is also developing a better understanding between our needs and our desires.
On the other hand, I feel ceptique with the idea to develop the capacity to read in the thoughts. I believe that with a more awakened and receptive consciousness to oneself and to others, we can detect non-verbal language and interpret it better.

Bianka Champagne

Interesting text.
Indeed, being more conscious allows us to listen more to our body, our needs and what makes us feel good. It is also developing a better understanding between our needs and our desires.

On the other hand, I feel ceptique with the idea to develop the capacity to read in the thoughts. I believe that with a more awakened and receptive consciousness to oneself and to others, we can detect non-verbal language and interpret it better.

Melanie Blanchette

I totally agree with the perspective that awareness can be developp. You need to learn to trust yourself and your instinct. Yoga and YTU is still learning me everyday to trust myself and help me to go forward in my goals, and its helping me also to be more attentive to the real needs of others around me.

Melaina Landriault

I completely agree that when we are self aware we can achieve great heights in our own personal psyche aswell as navigate our journeys with much finesse.

Thank you.

Melaina Landriault

Alice

This article reaffirms what I have always loved about the practice of yoga. It is a slowing down, a processing of moment to moment awareness through the breath, movement, stillness, sensations, observations. For me, it has never been about attaining anything. It’s simply space and time to drop in and be curious about whatever arises physically, mentally, emotionally.

JUNE BARTON

This article helps me a great deal as I am a person that usually want to go fast, nonstop; but as I continue to read this Blog, i just realized that I somehow do this self -awareness once in a while, but i never really put too much attention to it. But now I am so excited to start on this journey.

Elise S Guadalupe

Although I instinctively close my eyes during a practice, I primarily did not to keep myself from being distracted. Now, I understand that I was unconsciously doing it so that I could feel more sensation in the deep nooks and crannies of my body. Learning the term “Interoception”, has opened my mind up to an even deeper and more specific level of awareness.

Wenying Yu

Tried touch practice, love it.

Mallory

Whenever I am in a position of having to speak publicly, I have now become aware of my breath quicken before I start to sweat or get uncomfortable. It happens as soon as the person says, “now everyone will take a turn reading out loud”, or right before stepping in front of the meeting to go through a presentation. Now through my yoga practice, I have begun to recognize that as my nervous system being overly engaged and agitated, entering “fight or flight” mode. Developing this awareness has helped me to start to focus on my breath and try to… Read more »

Vanessa

When I just started running 3 years ago, I didn’t pay a lot of attentions to recovery exercises nor stretch movements. Until one day, I felt painful to even lift my right leg. The doctor told me that I had an Iliotibial band syndrome and I had to stop running till full recovery. During 2-month physical therapy exercises, I started to realize that I really needed to raise more self-awareness and listen to our body to create the best life for ourselves.

Jill

Several years ago I participated in the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) course. The group met once a week for three hours of learning and practice for 9 weeks, and we had the “homework” to practice various mindfulness strategies each day (body scanning, sitting meditation and yoga). I was so very resistant to 9 weeks of daily homework!!!! But I am also an “achiever” type personality. If I signed up for this course and paid the money for it.. I was gonna get everything out of it I could and meet every expectation. At first the body scanning was very… Read more »

Sandy Gross

Brilliant article Meredith! “Touch practice”… So good!

Pamela Ferner

I loved reading this and know I will go back to it and read it again as a reminder. I particularly appreciated the shout-out for gut awareness and the using the coregeous ball to increase awareness and appreciation of breath. Thank you.

Dawn Williams

I still remember the day I first slowed down as an adult and became aware of a palm tree that was across a field from where I was lying down on someone’s deck. It was a very quiet moment, with little or no breeze on the deck, but the top of the tree was swaying rhythmically above the quiet down below. I was about 26 years old, and though I had been very aware as a child, lying and watching the clouds change shape etc., I realized that my life had become so busy, that I didn’t truly “see” anymore.… Read more »

Polly swingle

I have spent the last week at Kripula and for the first time , spent a lot of time with just myself. This time has heightened my awareness of me, my environment, and the people around me. Regarding myself I continuously recognize my minds attitude, my bodies position and sensations. Being this aware than allows me to give myself the appropriate self care it needs. The challenge now is to keep this practice going.

Randy

This really resonates for me as i coach people how to move their bodies and improve their overall health. I find when I practice self awareness consistently I am present for my clients and provide an effective service for that individual. When I fall away from quiet time/meditation practice I am more distant and automated in my coaching practice. Building self awareness has really helped me flourish in all that I put my focus too. Definitely going to try one of the self awareness challenges. Thanks for that

Suzanne O'Donnell

Thank you! great reminder that the gift of yoga is self study and self awareness