In the last lesson we emphasized the importance of coaching in a way that helps us process stress. Another concept that is helpful for understanding stress is the universal law of energy: energy flows along the path of least resistance. Or, energy moves toward what is easiest. We need to align ourselves with this law in such a way so we can develop awareness.

The typical way of coaching is motivated toward what is easiest for achieving the end result. It focuses on the comfort that we will experience when we achieve that end result. It’s focused on fast, to get to the end fast; and loud, to create distractions for the mind so we don’t experience as much stress. 

For example, consider a typical exercise gymnasium. The emphasis is on doing a lot of repetitions, quickly. Additionally, loud music is played to “motivate” participants and to give the mind something to focus on so it can ignore the stress. This fast and loud approach adds layers that hinder awareness. It’s focused on “the end justifies the means.” In other words, we use any means to achieve the end result.

We need to slow down and be silent to become more aware. We all do this for other things that are important to us. We are silent when we pray; we share a moment of silence to honor someone who died; we should be silent when we listen to others. Silence is equated with importance, respect, and attentiveness. We need to apply this approach to everything we do so we improve our ability to notice subtle layers of awareness. 

One of the exercises we do in our clinics is holding the Warrior 2 yoga pose for three minutes. Holding it this long creates stress. The intention of the exercise is to focus our attention on breathing, relaxing, and holding the pose with quality. “Quality” simply means we hold the pose in its proper form, using just the amount of energy that’s needed.

We need to understand how an exercise like this helps us become more aware. Becoming aware is a process of uncovering layers of mis-information. We uncover these layers by paying attention to subtleties. So, for holding the yoga pose, for instance, we need to uncover layers that interfere with holding the pose with quality. 

There are physical and mental subtle layers that cover up our awareness. We’ll tend to contract under stress. Physically, we need to become increasingly aware of the quality of our breathing, relaxing, and posture when we’re stressed. We notice the subtlety of our breath. Is it deep, continuous, and regular? Under stress it will become shallow and irregular. We also notice subtle tension in our muscles. Are we holding any unneeded tension? We notice our posture. Is it contracting, becoming concave? If so, we make subtle adjustments to hold the pose correctly.

We also contract mentally when we experience stress. Mental contraction involves using tricks to avoid stress. For instance, when holding the yoga pose, some students describe thinking of a song or focusing on a spot in front of them to diminish stress. Doing this makes it easier on the mind, but it distracts attention from noticing subtleties. Attention is on the song or the spot and not on the subtleties of what we’re doing. 

Contraction will return when we’re stressed. The breath will become more shallow, muscles will tense, and our posture will become concave. These are layers covering up our awareness. All of our attention is needed to notice subtle contractions so we can redirect our attention to proper breathing, relaxing, and body posture. 

Awareness requires silence and slowing down. Qi Gong and Tai Chi exercises are slow and quiet, with attention on breathing, relaxing, and slow movements. Emphasis is on finding the easiest way to do the process, not on how to achieve the end result. The universal law of energy manifests itself in the processes of breathing, relaxing, and body movements. Continuous breathing, continuous relaxing, and proper posture is what is easiest in each moment. Silence and moving slowly emphasizes that the means, or process, is an end in itself. We do the exercise for the joy of doing it.

There’s another important point here: attention needs to be focused on what we can control. The loud and fast approach focuses attention on the future end result. We can’t control what is in the future; we can only control what occurs in the present. What occurs in the present is processes, not end results. Energy doesn’t follow the path of least resistance in the future; it does this in the present. In fact, everything occurs in the present; nothing occurs in the future. “Future” is simply a construct of the mind. If we want to be effective and aware then we need to keep our attention in the present on the processes we can control.

By focusing on breathing, relaxing, and proper body posture we allow energy to flow through the body the easiest way. The mind remains calm and attentive. If we’re silent and move slowly we’ll notice subtle layers of tension when they occur. Loud and fast won’t help us notice this tension. With silence and moving slowly we can bring importance and attentiveness to all aspects of our lives.

Practice Tip: Warrior 2

Doing an exercise in silence helps you develop awareness of your breathing, excess tension, and body posture. Hold the Warrior 2 yoga pose two different ways to develop subtle awareness. Hold it for 3 minutes each time.

  • Fast and Loud: Turn on the TV to create noise. Focus on the end result and place the timer where you can see it. Focus on how much time you have left. 
  • Slow and silent: Take a short break and then do it again on the opposite side. Turn off the TV and any other noise or distraction. Set the intention to focus your attention on continuous belly breathing, relaxing, and proper body posture. Roll your shoulders slightly back and down. Set the timer but put it where you can’t see it. When you notice you’re wondering how much time is left, redirect your attention to breathing, relaxing, and proper posture. Enjoy being in stress. Compare the two experiences:

What did you notice about your breath?

Where did you notice tension?

Were you able to relax the tension?

What about your body posture?

Did it become concave with shoulders rising up?

Which one was easier, more enjoyable?

This Post Has 4 Comments

  1. Nicki

    The timing of this article is uncanny. It comes at a time when my life is very “noisy” and feeling frantic. I will give this exercise my full attention to help with my relaxation, both in my life and on the wall. Thank you!

    1. Arno

      You’re welcome Nicki. We all have such busy lives. What’s odd is our lives seem to slip away due to the busyness. To counter that we need to find silence and slow down. Then we can look around, be grateful, and wonder at the mystery of it all.

  2. Michael V

    Is “attention” distinguished from “awareness” because it involves “focus?” It seems that when we put one thing into focus then other things become out of focus. If we focus on a song or a spot in the room then our attention is focused outwards. If we focus on our bodies and minds in the moment then our attention becomes focused inwards, but it is still “focused.” Does that focus affect our ability to experience an endlessly open awareness and perception of the moment as it presents itself to our consciousness?

    End-result thinking is caused by an expectation about an outcome. “I expect to feel good about myself when I send a 5.xx graded route,” or “I expect to see beautiful views when I reach this summit.” What about micro-scale expectations, like “I expect to hold my hips and spine in alignment while I breath deeply in this warrior pose,” or “I expect to stick this crux move when I give it complete focus and attention in the moment.” Are these expectations of our own practice, despite arising in the present moment of focus and attention, counterproductive to becoming aware and perceptive of the most subtle layers of our physical and mental experiences?

    1. Arno

      Hi Michael, Important questions you raise. Awareness and consciousness have been difficult terms for philosophers and psychologists to define. Yet, we need to give it a shot. To my understanding, awareness is our level of knowledge we have in the present moment, which is greatly influenced by our past experiences. So, we are aware of what’s occurring in the present moment based on how our past is influencing our perceptions. Attention is the intentional directing of, or focus of, awareness. So, I think you’re on target with how you’re understanding it.

      Expectations do impact on a micro-scale. We can hold the yoga pose and expect a kind of end result (holding with proper posture, etc). That distracts from paying attention to what is actually happening to one’s posture moment to moment. So, it’s helpful to have process expectations: I expect to focus my attention on continuous breathing, relaxing into the pose, and holding the pose with quality. Then focus moment to moment on how well we’re doing that. Thanks for your post. Arno

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