One of the most important skills you develop through yoga and meditation practice is witnessing. By learning how to be aware in every moment, you also learn how to observe.
Most of us place judgements on everything, all the time. We judge other people. We judge our circumstances. We judge external events; and perhaps most importantly, we are constantly judging ourselves.
Recently, I wrote a blog post about pratyahara — withdrawing the senses. And sense withdrawal is a useful step in building your ability to become a witness.
What does witnessing mean?
Most of the time we’re caught in our thoughts, emotions, and in all of the external happenings around us. So caught up, in fact, that we often assume we are our thoughts and emotions.
But this isn’t the case; you are not your thoughts. You are not your emotions. You are not your belongings, your job; you are not your role as a partner/mother/sister/friend/etc.
At your core, you are you. Your Self.
And when you connect with that simplicity of self — understanding that you are not your thoughts — you can begin to observe all that happens in your mind, body, and in the world outside of you. You experience an important level of detachment which allows you to see everything for what it is.
To witness is to observe impartially. You notice what you’re thinking and feeling without judging yourself. You become aware of what’s happening around you without judging. There is no need to like or dislike whatever it is you’re observing. It just is.
In yogic tradition, we exist in two different dimensions at the same time — but we’re usually only aware of one of those dimensions. We’re either awake (in our outer world) or asleep (in our inner world), but when we’re asleep we’re not really aware that we’re in that inner world.
In meditation, however, we become aware of the inner world. We access that place that is typically only visited in sleep. And from that place, we can observe our waking self more objectively.
How does learning to observe help you with stress and anxiety?
The skill of witnessing is incredibly powerful. With practice, it allows you to step back and observe any situation, any thought, or any feeling without judgement. This kind of observation takes the intensity out of overwhelm; you can see it for what it is. You recognise what you’re feeling as a reactionary experience.
And then feelings can soften and ease.
Being a skilled observer gives you the capacity to reject reactionary responses to events or feelings. Instead, you can move through each day with deep grace, composure, and knowing. You speak and act thoughtfully from a place of awareness. And your self-talk — the things you say to yourself — changes from derogatory and painful, to empathetic and aware.
Become a Witness
Practising mindfulness naturally develops your ability to observe. Antar Mauna translates from Sanskrit as ‘inner silence’, and it’s a wonderful meditation technique to work on your skills of awareness.
The first four stages of Antar Mauna are as follows:
Becoming aware of stimulus experienced through the senses — all that you can see, hear, taste, touch, or smell
Becoming aware of spontaneous thoughts that arise in your mind
Actively creating thoughts, and then releasing them
Heightened awareness and then release of spontaneous thoughts
It’s certainly possible to practice mindfulness techniques like this on your own. But for lots of us, it’s important to draw opportunities for relaxation, focus and stillness into our lives — so that we can truly understand the power of meditation.
We’re working on witnessing in this week’s class on the 6 week Yoga and Meditation course to conquer stress and anxiety. There are still spots available on the next course, starting 22 October!
Early bird prices are still available for both of these retreats — book now or get in touch to chat!