Embodied Awareness

by Vidyadevi Stillman & Swami Nirmalananda Saraswati

“At the end of a class, I had the students roll to their sides after their final Shavasana,” says Vidyadevi.  “One man didn’t move.  I looked over at him.  Honestly, he looked dead.  His skin was pale and I couldn’t see his breath moving.  I got up, came over and squeezed his foot several times before he opened his eyes.  For some reason I asked, ‘Where were you?’  He said, ‘Oh, I was at the beach.’”  I said, ‘You need to get into your body!’”

Unfortunately, most people float around outside their body most of the time.  They are a little above and a little in front of their body, which looks half dead — pale, dry and shriveled up.  No wonder zombie movies are so popular!

Svaroopa® yoga classes start with the Guided Awareness in Shavasana.  For the first few weeks or months, you track with the words all the way up to your knees or hips, then you lose the outer sounds, including your teacher’s words.  Have you yet gotten to the point where you can follow the whole Guided Awareness yet?  Being aware of each area of your body that is named, being aware through each of your body parts in turn, and being aware of your whole body all at the same time?  It’s an amazing experience!

As you continue to practice Shavasana and the Guided Awareness, your ability to be embodied increases.  This means that Shavasana is very important. As your ability to hear every word improves, you’re hearing the words without working at it. This is because the Guided Awareness is an “awareness practice,” not a body oriented practice.

Awareness is one of the technical terms of yoga, describing the true nature of your own being.  You have the inherent capacity to be aware without thought, without efforting, and without the doingness associated with your usual mode of perception. In the beginning of your yoga studies, you go unconscious at such profound inner depths, but your Shavasana practice makes you able to be very deep within yourself, yet aware while you are in there. It is not yet the fully empowered awareness that is your own Divine Essence, but it is the beginning of your inner discovery.

This happens because you are already Divine.  The innermost dimensions of your own existence are Consciousness-Itself, as clearly described in one of the Kashmiri Shaivite texts:

Chiti sa.mkochaatmaa chetano’pi sa.mkuchita vi”svamaya.h

– Pratyabhij~nah.rdayam Sutra 4

Consciousness-Itself assumes contraction to become both the universe and the individuals…

This sutra begins with “Chiti,” meaning “Consciousness-Itself,” naming the Reality which contracts to become the whole universe, and specifically points out that Consciousness becomes you. This means that you are pure consciousness, contracted into an individualized form. Consciousness doesn’t lose anything in the process; Consciousness is not diminished in any way.

Swami Nirmalananda uses a metaphor to make it clear:  do you remember running a foot race with a child, and letting them win the race?  Vidyadevi’s nephew wanted to run a foot race around the block to see who could run faster. They ran neck-and-neck all the way, yet at the very end, she let him win.  Did this mean that she was never going to have the capacity to run fast again? No.  It can even be fun to pretend to be small, but you don’t lose your greatness in the process.  Neither does Chiti.

The paradox is that Consciousness is grounding and rooting at the same time that Consciousness is expanding.  By grounding and rooting into self (small-s self), Consciousness is grounding into individuality; yet Consciousness is expanding into multiplicity at the same time.  It’s cosmic; it’s huge.  It is also totally personal.

Originally published Oct 2013