The underlying mechanism of mindful movement or the transition from ego-dominance, through the Observer-self into clear consciousness. Why yoga works.
Delusions of grandeur or inferiority are manifestations of the ego, and they are all OK as long as we are aware of the specific ways in which the ego manifests in us. As long as we know our parts, with their respective strengths and weaknesses. The latter are our cracks, and they are more important than our strengths. Self-awareness, self-understanding and self-acceptance empower the human beings who we are to hold the reins of our lives. We function through the true self, and we experience ourselves as clear consciousness in human form. The opposite state — unawareness or ignorance — applies when there is ego-dominance. In this case humans unknowingly submit to a lackey role.
Almost a decade ago I developed the concept of mindful movement and published it in the scientific journal Psychology of Sport and Exercise as such: “We propose the concept of mindful movement where the quality of physical activity is elevated by focusing it on a specific level of self-awareness known as mindfulness. When physical activity takes the form of mindful movement, one consciously experiences the movements of one’s body and is thereby deliberately present in the whole practice of physical activity, as if one becomes one’s own observer. Through “whole practice” we mean that simultaneously with the act of moving one’s body, one also breathes in certain ways, feels certain feelings and thinks certain thoughts. The observation of these four elements -movement, breathing, feeling and thinking- while engaging in physical activity changes the quality of the exercise, turning into mindful movement. By regular participation in mindful movement, a new “true” sense of self can be experienced. Specifically, through the practice of mindful movement, one trains oneself in experiencing a self who moves, breathes, feels and thinks, while simultaneously one’s “true self” observes the movements, the breathing, and the feelings and thoughts that are generated during physical activity. Through repeated experiencing of such retreat into one’s true self (i.e., the Observer), one may gather recognition of the trueness of this Observer-self and can manage locating it apart from the self that moves and breathes and produces different feelings and thoughts. This way, one may become aware that one’s body and one’s mind belong to one’s true self yet are not it. Similarly, one’s feelings, thoughts, emotions and problems, although may seem to belong temporarily to one’s self, should never define or become part of one’s identity. In other words, mindful practice of physical activity (or physical activity that involves mindful movement) may help individuals non-identify themselves with their feelings, thoughts, emotions and problems, but watch them as an Observer. This mindful practice allows for refreshed perspectives and detached views because a healthy distance is created between an individual’s true self and his or her feelings, thoughts, emotions and problems (which ultimately are the products of one’s efforts to satisfy the ego’s demands). This process of dissociation provides place for awareness to manifest, and that awareness translates into mindfulness, which in turn is an essential element of sound mental health.”
Asztalos et al. “Sport participation and stress among women and men”, Psychology of Sport and Exercise (2012/13, 466–483).
Since then, I perfected and applied this original concept in clinical and non-clinical settings, so it ceased being a concept and became the foundation of the method of consciousness development I developed — “The 3M System”, which engages both body and mind. This method works with the mind via the body; it fosters self-awareness, self-understanding and self-acceptance via body awareness and the kinaesthetic sense. Body awareness gives us the experience of our physical presence and the understanding of being embodied. The kinaesthetic sense (also known as kinaesthesia or kinesthesis) is the perception of bodily movements. The word “kinaesthesia” comes from the Greek words “kines” (i.e., movement) and “aesthesia” (i.e., sensation or feeling), so it literally means “movement feeling”. Any and all movements are perceived through the kinaesthetic sense. Moreover, through our kinaesthetic sense we are able to detect changes in our body position and movements without relying on information from the five senses. This is how we know that our limbs are moving without seeing them or touching them.
The merit of “The 3M System” to facilitate the experience of clear consciousness is scientifically rooted in the proven positive correlations between body awareness and the kinaesthetic sense on one hand, and consciousness and super-consciousness on the other hand. According to the scientific terminology used in studies, consciousness is defined as our sense of self created through our psychological conditionings including the ego plus our senses including the kinaesthetic sense. Super-consciousness is knowing that we know ourselves. In other words, super-consciousness is when you become aware that you are aware.
Within “The 3M System”, I designed two techniques of mindful movement “The 3M Power Posture” and “The 3M Freedom Breathing”, which are accessible to everyone, even persons who shy away from yoga. However, yoga is a perfect example of mindful movement, and for the purpose of this article it is ideal as it needs no separate description.
This article focuses on the underlying mechanism of mindful movement, more specifically what happens in the mind when people engage in mindful movement from the perspective of self-awareness, self-understanding and self-acceptance, relative to the ego.
Ultimately, the motto of “The 3M System” is “BE in all you DO” because it promotes the act of moving mindfully in all human activities, from sports and physical therapy to daily activities and work-related movements. The benefits in consciousness development described below may follow all physical activity when done mindfully. And the Observer-self plays an essential role in adding a mindful quality to any movement or activity.
Breaking down the scientific truth to palatable messages, “The 3M System” teaches that the ego is not our enemy, but we must be wary of ego-dominance. The ego can be useful if it works for the welfare of the human being. Especially when it submits to the leadership of a human being whose Observer-self is active. It is then that the ego is the drive behind the human’s ambitions and the fiercest protector of the human.
There is no smarter success-strategist than the ego’s cunning opportunism, and there is no stronger guard than the ego’s fierce sense of survival. However, when the ego is in charge, as it happens in ego-dominance, the human is lost in the ego’s exhausting game.
By its nature, the ego always craves attention and acknowledgement. It exists in duality: it likes what it wants, and it hates what it does not want. To understand the ego, imagine how you would feel if you were the waves of the ocean, exalted with each raise and terrified with each fall. The wave is happy when it grows, but once raised to the top, its inevitable downfall brings unhappiness. If you were a wave, wouldn’t you want to make the first part permanent and eliminate the second part? I know I would, because for a long time I was convinced that I was the waves and I suffered terribly with the crashes.
Trapped in the ever-shifting duality of attachment and aversion, the wave is a prisoner caught up in the exhausting cycles of short-lived euphoria followed by brutal crashing to the shore. Exalted and then terrified over and over again. Fortunately for the ego, it lives in the human being, so it can be set free. The human can activate the Observer-self within and observe the cycles of the waves. Observation implies detachment, some level of distancing. By training the habit of retreating in the Observer-self, a healthy distance appears between the human and his or her parts. Space gets created within the human.
Creating space is our most important task in this human life. Life manifests itself through us. Like electricity getting through different types of lamps in order to create a variety of lights. We are all different individuals; each of us is unique. But we are all hooked to the electricity of Life. In that, we are all the same. We are all lamps. Some are fancy chandeliers, elaborate constructions of crystal. Others are simple one-bulb lamps. Whatever our parts, if we know them and we accept them with their strengths and weaknesses alike, relaxation appears within us. Through relaxation, space gets created. Then, Life flows in and fills up that space with its electricity. The result is light. When there is space within, the human being shines light.
A subtle but substantial shift in perspective happens from “You have a life” to “Life shines through you”. In the former, we live under pressure: we must make something of ourselves. We fight a lonely fight, and we are struggling for something that may or may not satisfy us. In the latter, our life has a clear purpose: we are meant to collaborate with Life. We create space, and then we relax. The rest is up to Life. The responsibility is half; the pressure is close to null.
When we create space, we function through our true self. When we maintain crowdedness in our being, both mental and physical, we live through ego-dominance.
In order to create space, we need to activate and train our Observer-self. And the most efficient way to do that is through mindful movement. The body is the gateway through which we discover our minds and the clear consciousness that is our core essence.
Through mindful movement we create space within our being and our interactions with Life become meaningful. They result in wisdom. In the above metaphor of the waves, wisdom is the realization that the substance of the wave is ocean. In our essence, we are the depth of the ocean. Also, we have waves. The Observer-self empowers us to experience ourselves as the peaceful depth of the ocean even when we ride a wave. This is the way to break free for both the human and the ego.
In the depth of the ocean, peace prevails. The beautiful, crazy movement of the waves is on the surface. The realization that we have waves, but they are not our core essence, gives us the freedom to enjoy the play of the waves, without losing ourselves in the drama of their crashes. Moreover, knowing our waves inside-out can help us learn how to relish their crashes as much as we delight in their highs. We can see the beauty of their complete cycles. We can grow to understand that their downfalls are necessary for the appreciation of their highs. Watching it from the distance of the Observer-self, the part which we wanted to eliminate when we thought we were the wave, becomes indispensable.
If the association of ego-dominance with the wave does not resonate with you, try this: the ego needs guidance from the human being, or else, just like an untrained puppy, it makes a mess of our lives. The more we learn about our ego, the better we get at guiding it and putting it in the service of the welfare of the human being who we are. Ego-dominance is like an untrained puppy. Ignore training and you are faced with poop in unwanted places, destroyed shoes and lots of nervous barking. Eliminate ego-dominance and you are free to enjoy all the cuteness of the puppy. Besides the obvious benefits for you, the puppy himself is also happier when trained. Picture a puppy running after his tail or barking at thin air. That unhappy sight is ego-dominance. The ego thinks that it wants to dominate, but actually it is happiest when its talents are used well while serving the human. Then it achieves its most coveted goal: assurance of its existence and its importance.
As we established that the problem is ego-dominance, not the ego per se, we must make the distinction between the ego’s apparent will to dominate and its actual need to be reassured and acknowledged.
Very clever, even cunning, the ego thrives on control because it fears its own disappearance. That’s why it insists on dominance. It doesn’t know better. To tame it, we need to have the determination to study its game, attentively and comprehensively.
The ego manifests itself differently in each of us, but essentially the ego presents us all with the same challenge: learning to identify our strengths and weakness, our ambitions and insecurities, our manipulative tendencies and our very own victim or martyr -story. All of these are the ego. Depending on the specific game the ego plays in us, we can be shy or cocky, and we can behave like angry bullies or sulking quitters. The ego’s arsenal contains a multitude of games, depending on the main aspect it brings into manifestation in our personality. Some examples are the authoritarian, the submissive, the rebellious, the individualist, the servant, the neurotic, the optimistic, the pessimistic, the nonchalant, the control-freak, the angry, the softy, the romantic, the eccentric, etc. Observing these attitudes or personality traits as the manifestations of the ego and studying the specific ways in which the ego plays in us, is the work through which we reduce ego-dominance and we put the ego to good use. This is how the ego realizes its true purpose: to help us grow and thrive. The ego was never meant to dominate; it was made to serve.
To illustrate the transition from ego-dominance, through the Observer-self into clear consciousness, imagine living enclosed in a narrow little box, surrounded by thick walls. This box is the mind when ruled by the ego. Under these conditions, you live in total oblivion of the limitless possibilities available outside the tick walls of the narrow little box of your mind. When you activate your Observer-self, the walls of your box become thinner and more transparent. You see more through the windows that appear on the thin walls. When you advance and the Observer-self is trained enough to be continuously present, the walls disappear. As ego-dominance diminishes, your world gets larger, and your experience gets richer.
The Observer-self is a periscope that broadens your horizons and helps you to see further than the ego’s point of view when rooted in its fear of disappearance. Without the box of ego-dominance, the ego serves the welfare of the human being who you are.
Without ego-dominance, the waves are no longer your sole identity. You start grasping that your true self is related to the calm depth of the ocean. The waves are the different covers through which clear consciousness can manifest. They are the expressions of Life’s richness and diversity as they manifest through the human being who you are.
The understanding that you have waves as opposed to being identified with the waves means that you experience yourself as both the ocean and the waves. You stepped into the third dimension which is beyond the duality of right versus wrong. Now you know equanimity.
I designed an exercise within the “The 3M System” which strengthens the practice of retreating into the Observer-self.
Imagine that you are sitting on a riverside, and you are watching the river flow, with little canoes passing by in front of you. Training the Observer-self means that you watch the canoes pass by in front of you while you sit on the riverside feeling the grass underneath you. The canoes represent the thoughts with which the ego seduces you, whenever you want to be present in your being. The ego can make the canoes irresistibly attractive, so before you realize it, you find yourself in a canoe going down the river. This is why many people find meditation difficult: they are given the task to ignore the canoes, but the ego makes this impossible, because its entire existence depends on its ability to catch and hold onto the human’s attention. It serves the ego’s best interest to be good in the seduction of the human mind. In mindfulness, people are not only supposed to ignore the canoes, but they are also supposed to breath “like mountains”. No wonder why so few succeed to make mindful presence their natural state. The majority keep mindfulness on their do-to list but don’t adopt it as their way of life. They do it for a while and then they return to functioning in ego-dominance.
“The 3M System” encourages you to watch the canoes and to analyze them. Observe their beautiful colors, admire their prettiness and get amazed at how interesting they are. Notice the cunningness of the ego which produces canoes that fit your idea of beautiful, pretty and interesting. Admire the ego’s ability to present you these canoes. That same cunningness makes of the ego an extraordinary helper when it serves the human.
In ego-dominance, your ego guides your mind. The mind is perfection — the most extraordinary machine, but it needs an operator, a machinist. And, as long as the human being who you are does not know clear consciousness, you cannot be the machinist. The ego is keen to lead to get its way, to keep existing, so it jumps to the opportunity to operate your mind. The massive potential existing in your brilliant mind will serve the ego’s dramatic game until you activate and train the Observer-self; on the riverside.
In the beginning of this exercise, the attention-seeking efforts of the ego will be successful, I guarantee it. You will most certainly have to fish yourself out of the river a couple of times, after getting on some particularly attractive canoes designed especially for the weaknesses of your parts. But don’t worry or get angry with yourself when this happens. Once you realize that you no longer feel the grass underneath you anymore, when you find yourself carried away by some fleshy thought, allow that experience to be. Accept that you are in the canoe, instead of watching the canoe pass. Accept that your concentration was not flawless. Take a moment and embrace the weakness through which the ego seduced you; then get out of the canoe, into the river and back to the riverbank.
Remember that with each canoe that you let pass by, as well as each time you get wet, you are getting to know your parts. Consciousness development is unconceivable without self-honesty. Peel yourself as if you were an onion. Peeling the layers of our onion will be confronting and even uncomfortable, at times. The truth is, it will stink and there will be tears. But by the end of the onion peeling, we get to know how we are put together, how we act and react, and why we do things the way we do them. Knowing ourselves is the reward which makes the effort and the discomfort of the onion peeling worthwhile. The reward is becoming responsive instead of reactive. We create space within ourselves, and we interact with Life in meaningful ways. We function through the true self, and we live as clear consciousness in human form.