We call yoga a practice for a reason. Practice prepares us for the real work – the work of living our life. Practice consists of rehearsing, over and over, the actions and reactions we want to master, so that, when the time comes, we are ready to perform skillfully. Yoga practice builds awareness, which leads to choice. When we practice coming face to face with challenging moments, we learn how to slow down, and notice what is really going on. We learn how to decide the right way to act or react. We awaken to all the possibilities that exist in that moment, rather then default to one habitual, and perhaps inappropriate, action.

This awakening can be achieved through a six-step program combining both yin and yang elements. In cognitive behavioral therapy a similar program is offered to help people cope with anxieties, phobias, and debilitating fears. There are fears that help us to live, and there are fears that stop us from living. These fears may be consciously recognized, or they may live deep inside us, directing our behavior and reactions without our conscious awareness. All these anxieties are stimulated by situations or thoughts, real or imagined. When faced with a challenge, our unconscious mind often sends us subliminal directives (activated by the samskaras). When we deliberately create challenges, such as during our yoga or meditation practices, we get a chance to rewire the unconscious mind, to reprogram new and more appropriate responses. We can undo the karmic defaults we live under. [1]

The six-step program that helps us conquer our fears and anxieties, [2] and awaken to the moment, is called A.W.A.K.E.N. Each letter represents one stage of the program:

  1. Allow
  2. Watch
  3. Act
  4. Keep at it
  5. Expect the best
  6. Now

When these steps are followed, over and over again, they become a healthy, healing habit. Once the habit is established, the fears we experience are reduced to only those that are appropriate for the situation we are in. To make these six steps into a habit, do them during your yoga practice or at any time you recognize unease creeping into your body, mind, or heart.

  1. — Thich Nhat Hanh would call these samskaras “weeds,” which we tend to water mindlessly. We water weeds when we could be watering beautiful flowers.
  2. — These would be called “dukha” in the Yoga Sutra.

(Next: Allow )