Dear Beautiful Yogi,
There are THOUSANDS of yoga techniques passed down teacher to student over many, many years of yoga practice and study. Some date way back to the Vedas and some are more recent in the history of yoga. Some involve mystical ritual and seem downright crazy. Others are really practical and as simple as methods of cleansing the body.
There is one technique that I have found to be ABSOLUTELY ESSENTIAL to one’s personal and spiritual development. The technique is called “witness mode”. I learned it from one of my most influential teachers, Rod Stryker. He taught it to me many years ago in the context of tantra yoga. Tantra yoga (I think I’ll write a blog post on this controversial topic soon) actually aims to make the yogi more powerful and free from fear. But in order to safely do so (who wants a powerful nut-job running around?), one must first become more and more self-aware. With self-awareness the yogi can remove negative aspects of one’s mind or personality, leading to a higher level of being and living.
Using the “WITNESS TECHNIQUE” helps us to do just that. It’s simple but that doesn’t mean it’s easy. One of the definitions of yoga is “to make the unconscious, conscious”. That is hard to do, because how do you become aware of what you aren’t aware of? How do you pull deeply buried mental patterns or hidden beliefs to the surface? How do you wake up to what’s hidden and potentially negative?
Becoming the witness initiates the process. The aim of yoga is to strip away all the misbeliefs and detrimental constructs that keep us from knowing just how beautiful and powerful we are. But so often unconscious self-beliefs and misunderstandings about our true nature keep us in negative thinking and poor decision making.
So, we practice witnessing anything and EVERYTHING. It’s a shift in how you perceive what you are experiencing. Instead of mindlessly bopping through your day or even your yoga practice, you take a step back on the inside and begin to acutely observe.
It looks kind of like this. Imagine you are in a yoga class.
UNCONSCIOUS MODE: “Damn my hamstrings are tight today, I should’ve done some yoga after that run or maybe skipped that glass of wine last night. I wish I was more disciplined.”
WITNESS MODE: “Wow, I am noticing tension in the hamstrings, a sensation of pulling. There is an urge to pull away but I am going to stay and pay attention and breathe.”
Do you see the difference? One pulls us into a story and the other asks us to just be present and aware. The challenge is to do this more and more as you move throughout the day. Stay connected to that neutral, internal witness that can take a step back and disconnect from the stories. This is especially powerful in difficult or triggering situations. Try just stepping back on the inside and observing yourself and everything that arises in the moment.
The result, you begin to see all of your “crazy”. You begin to see how much of the time your mind is coloring what’s really going on. You begin to see subconscious patterns driving your perception and experience of your whole life! Holy shit- that’s seriously big.
And that’s why I think it’s the most powerful yoga technique I know. It helps to strip away the B.S. It helps us see the TRUTH more clearly.
First try practicing this while doing your asana practice. You will notice how often it’s filled with mental chatter and all kinds of stories. As you get accustomed to this heightened self-awareness new insights will come bubbling up about yourself and your habits.
Then you have an opportunity to CONSCIOUSLY make changes. You cannot change something you were unaware of. Perhaps you realize how much time you spend evaluating your physical abilities while practicing rather than enjoying the practice. Most likely what you discover about your habits on the mat, plays out in all areas of your life.
Next step is to take the technique into daily life. Can you be the witness quietly observing yourself and your surroundings while at work, at the grocery store, running errands or any activity? Notice when you feel anxious, irritated, calm, scattered or joyful. Notice the thoughts you have. Notice how you interact with others and how they interact with you. More “aha moments” will come.
This simple but challenging practice helps us uncover old, stale and negative ways of thinking and being. It slowly brings the unconscious out into the open where we have the opportunity to choose rather than being powerlessly driven by the same old habits over and over again.