Yoga and Observation: Yoga and the theater of your mind


With the help of yoga practice, self-observation is like watching a theater play. After practicing yoga asanas and yoga breathing exercises, we can slowly bring our awareness back to a centered, calm state. Sitting down in silence, in meditation with the eyes closed, the mind looks in on itself.

Witnessing the mind with Yoga

“Every emotion in the mind creates a corresponding sensation in the body.When you observe sensations, emotions are transformed as sensations in the body & then they disappear. The sensations are released and the mind becomes clear."
- Sri Sri Ravi Shankar

See for yourself. Experience an online guided meditation.

Today is the world premiere of a very special play. The audience quickly takes their seats. The lights come on. The conductor in the orchestra pit strikes up the music. Red velvet curtains slowly open, revealing beautifully painted background scenery. Waiting in the wings, actors take their cues. Bounding onto the stage in colorful costumes, each is set to play their roles. A clever villain laughs with a smirk. A hero fights with valor. The show has begun.

The play features a dance between two groups, Thoughts and Feelings. The Thought dancers wear red costumes. The Feeling dancers wear green. A mixture of Thoughts and Feelings whirl across, coloring the stage. Sometimes mostly red, sometimes mostly green or mixing both.

For a while, the Thoughts dance. “What will I have for dinner tonight? What is my son doing right now?” What thoughts are flickering across the screen of the mind? As the Thought dancers exit, the Feelings dancers take their cue. Feelings of joy, feelings of sadness. And back to happiness again. The Feelings dancers perform their dance.

Yoga breathing for self-observation

Practicing yoga breathing techniques can help us notice the play of the mind. One yoga breathing technique, or pranayama, is called Ujjayi breath (pronounced “ooo-j-aye.”) Ujjayi yoga breath is sometimes called “Ocean breath” because of its resemblance to the ocean’s sound. Breathing in Ujjayi yoga breathing technique can calm the mind, and prepare us for a short meditation. In this meditation, we’ll take a few minutes to notice what is happening in the mind.

Learning Ujjayi yoga breathing technique

  1. Sit comfortably in a chair. You may also sit cross-legged on the ground or on a yoga mat.

  2. Slowly breathe out while making a “Ha” sound.

  3. Now stretch this “Ha” sound, so that it becomes a long deep breath “Haaaaaaa”.

  4. Breathe in while slowly making the “Ha” sound, but this time close your mouth. Feeling the throat slightly constricted and air flowing at the throat

  5. With the mouth closed, continue breathing like this, in and out, for 10 long deep breaths. As you take in a long deep “in” breath, breathe an equally long “out” breath.

Learn these techniques in the Art of Living Introductory Courses. Find a course near you.

Yoga and meditation for self-observation

(In this paragraph, we’ll go over simple instructions for a short meditation. First read through, then notice what happens in the mind during the meditation.)

After completing ten Ujjayi yoga breaths, sit quietly with the eyes closed. As you keep breathing normally, bring your attention to the mind. Are you aware of any thoughts or feelings? They will be linked either with the past, the present, or the future.

Imagine three baskets sitting in front of you. When you notice a thought or feeling, catch it. If the thought or feeling is about the past, mentally place it in the basket to the left. If it is about the present, place it in the middle basket. For a thought or feeling about the future, place it in the basket to the right. Keep doing this for the next three to five minutes, or longer if you like. What did you notice?

Sri Sri Ravi Shankar reminds us, “Observe your breath. All the time you are saying ‘yes’ or ‘no’ and having a private dialogue in your mind. It is like having a discourse with yourself.” Sri Sri says, “Every emotion in the mind creates a corresponding sensation in the body. When you observe sensations, emotions are transformed as sensations in the body and then they disappear. The sensations are released and the mind becomes clear.”

Look behind the scenes with yoga

As the mind watches the dance of thoughts and feelings, we know these are performers, playing their roles. One layer beneath the performers, we notice the activities behind the scenes. Working in the wings, a whole production crew controls the lights, the curtains and the sounds. Yoga brings the awareness that we are not the thoughts or feelings in the mind.

“The shift from the scenery to the seer happens with yoga,” says Sri Sri. “You find that the seer is all bliss, all love. All that we have been seeking outside in many things are all what the seer is.” 

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