Awareness. I often joke that it is a blessing and a curse. It’s a blessing because with awareness comes opportunity. Maybe it’s the opportunity to know more about yourself, to take better care of yourself, to surround yourself with people who treat you as you wish to be treated because through awareness you have figured out what that means. Maybe it’s the opportunity to have richer experiences, or all of the above. At the same time, awareness can be challenging. You may be challenged because you’ve learned that your body doesn’t react well to something you love to eat, or maybe you’ve gained the knowledge that a relationship or a job is no longer serving you. Awareness is sometimes the first step to change, and even if we know it is for the better, change can be hard.
For instance, I’ve become aware that eating too much wheat and hot sauce are two things that give me a stomach ache. But I love pasta, bread, and spicy food, and I put hot sauce on almost everything. Even knowing that these things aren’t good for me, there are times when I cave and have some pasta or put hot sauce on my eggs. I’m aware that I operate best on 8, sometimes even 9, hours of sleep. But there are times when I just can’t put my book down, or I get engrossed in something on tv. You get the picture right? I’m aware that my body operates best under certain conditions, but it isn’t always easy to hear those messages and act on them. So what do you do when you know what is best for yourself but circumstances, willpower, or you get in your way?
Let’s back up for a minute and talk about how you become more aware of what is best for you to begin with. The answer is simple, but it isn’t easy.
Let’s back up for a minute and talk about how you become more aware of what is best for you to begin with. The answer is simple, but it isn’t easy. You listen. You slow down and you notice. You have a feeling or a thought and you pause and give some thought as to what might be happening for you. Yoga and meditation bring awareness. They’re kind of a package deal in that when you practice yoga or meditation, awareness happens whether you are looking for it or not. In your yoga practice, you focus on your breath and what’s going on in your body and your mind. You begin to see that there is more than one way to come into a pose, just as in life, when there is more than one way to look at a situation. You learn which poses make you feel good, which poses you can breathe through with ease, and which ones cause discomfort or take your breath away. You notice what is going through your mind in a pose and you notice what emotions that pose has brought up for you. You become aware, and then you make a choice to maybe take one more breath and see if the discomfort changes. Or maybe you ease up a bit to make some space and give yourself a little more room to breathe. The same thing happens with meditation. You sit quietly, you see what comes up for you. You notice if your emotions are related to any physical feeling. Over time, without realizing it, this ability to hear yourself, to notice, begins to happen off the mat.
Here’s an example of how awareness can sneak up on you. One of the women I have the privilege of teaching yoga to had to reschedule her appointment with me. When I showed up on what wasn’t her regular day, she had forgotten I was coming but wanted to practice anyway. When we were done, she admitted that because she forgot I was coming, she hadn’t had time to have her usual cup of coffee before we practiced. As an aside, I knew she drank coffee before we practiced and had mentioned to her that she may want to try having the coffee after yoga one day instead of before. Not necessarily with the goal of making a change, just to simply notice if there was a difference in the way she felt. I could tell by the look on her face that she wasn’t so into that idea. So I didn’t bring it up again and I knew that her practice might lead her to trying it one day, in her own time, when she was ready. On this particular day, as we finished up, she said that in practicing without her morning dose of caffeine it had been easier for her mind to settle. That she had even felt stronger. She cursed the realization because she loves her coffee first thing in the morning. First I laughed, because I’ve been there – the place where you realize what you love isn’t the best thing for you. And then I said that this didn’t mean she had to give up her coffee altogether. It didn’t mean that she had to do anything at all. But now she was aware and she had choices. She could decide to have her coffee after her practice, she may someday switch to decaf. But either way, she now knows that there’s a whole other feeling out there, and it’s a good one, and she can choose whether or not the way she is doing things serves her. And when you really think about it, that’s a gift.
There are times I struggle with what I am learning about myself. And when I do, I remember that I would rather be aware, because what I learn might be inconvenient, but it will also give me choices and opportunities.
Having awareness doesn’t mean that things have to change right away and you don’t necessarily have to change everything you notice. Making a change or creating a new habit takes time. It isn’t like flipping a switch, although we all tend to believe that it should be right? In our minds the idea that we know what isn’t serving us should result in an immediate end to that behavior. But it’s more complicated than that. It’s hard to break a pattern, to form a new habit.
If you notice something you want to change, start by being kind to yourself, cut yourself some slack. The human brain is not equipped to change everything at once and it can’t hear negatives. So if you say “I won’t eat ice cream for snack anymore,” your brain actually hears, “I eat ice cream.” Instead, try replacing the negative statement for a positive one like, “I am going to eat almonds for snack because they make me feel good.” Don’t set yourself up for failure. Start small. Maybe that means you cut back before you eliminate or maybe it means that if you have 3 things you are aware that you want to change you start with one. Master that, then try the second. If you know that exercise makes you feel great, don’t decide that you are going to work out for an hour a day every day. You are human and that is most likely too lofty a goal given that you are already living a pretty packed life. Instead, try for 10 minutes every day, or 30 minutes three times a week. When you meet that goal, increase your time or your frequency from there. You will feel good and that will fuel your success.
As much as awareness can shake things up, I have to say that overall I’m a fan. There are times I struggle with what I am learning about myself. And when I do, I remember that I would rather be aware, because what I learn might be inconvenient, but it will also give me choices and opportunities. That said, I’m also working on managing my expectations and not being so hard on myself if I fall short of them. As I like to say, it’s a marathon not a sprint. So hang in there.
As always, thank you for reading, take care of you, and don’t hesitate to contact me if you have any comments or questions on this or any other wellness-related topic.