What does cultivate the witness mean?

We use the term ‘witness’ or to ‘cultivate the witness’ in yoga and meditation when we are referring to the process of developing our awareness. To witness, is the ability to observe without reacting or thinking about what you are observing. And in doing so, you are able to witness your Self more.

It is like seeing yourself in a mirror, watching a situation, a conversation where you are the main protagonist.

Learning to witness offers tremendous support as you go about your daily life. You’ll have more composure and presence in your actions. You’ll feel grounded. Being the witness also impacts on how you see the world, how you respond to situations, and, importantly, the relationship you have with your Self.

Meditation and yoga are ancient techniques in which we take the awareness inwards, and in doing so develop this ability to witness.

Through Yoga asana and meditation, you observe the sensations in your body. Meditation is a practice that you can use to understand and recognise the patterns of your mind, connecting with your true nature and learning to understand yourself more.

Let’s delve a little deeper…

The witness in yoga psychology

Sakshi is the term used in Sanskrit for witness. It combines the  words, sa, and aksha meaning “with,” and “senses.”

Sakshi is the ‘pure awareness’ that witnesses the world but does not get affected or involved.

In classical Yoga psychology, the “witness” is referred to as transcendental consciousness. It allows you to observe the mind from the deepest source inside ourselves, often termed “inner witness” or “witness consciousness.”

The witnessing consciousness is that part of yourself which only observes. It is not your thinking mind, i.e., the thinker or the thoughts.  It is the silent, all-knowing part of yourself. In Yoga psychology we call this the higher Mind or ‘Buddhi’, the knower.

Developing awareness is one of the most important parts of yoga and meditation. Without awareness, there is no space, and as such you may react to situations without thinking.

Through the different practices, you work on the process of awakening and cultivating your awareness. Developing your awareness and cultivating the witness go hand by hand.

Being the witness is to be the impartial observer, uninvolved, in a calm manner, regardless of what is going on within or around you. Accepting anything that manifests.

The witness in yoga psychology
Developing the witness through the practice of yoga and meditation.

In traditional yoga, you generally start your journey by practicing Hatha Yoga, focusing on the gross body. The postures of Hatha yoga (asanas) are the first point in which you begin to develop the witness, peeling back the layers of awareness. This is often described as peeling back the layers of an onion!

When you practice yoga asana, the intention is to fully experience the practice by being present, ‘aware,’ from the perspective of the witness.

You achieve this by noticing the movement of your body with the breath, feeling the effects of each posture in terms of sensations in the body, and understanding how each posture feels physically. Mentally, you might encounter some resistance to the practice, and we encourage you to notice your thoughts and emotions as they arise.

Pranayama (yogic breathwork) is another avenue where, like asana, you are fully present and aware during practice. During and at the end of each session, you witness the effects on your breath and the flow of energy (prana) through your body.

The breath is subtler than the physical body. How you breathe and the pattern of your breath are intricately connected to the state of your mind

If you want to delve deeper, you may find this article on Breathwork for beginners insightful.

Developing the witness through the practice of yoga and meditation
Meditation and the witness.

Meditation is the ultimate yoga practice. I describe meditation as any technique where you focus on one point of concentration, developing your inner awareness and the ability to witness. In meditation this can be body sensation, your breath, or your thoughts.

When you practice meditation, the intention is not to get lost or tangled in your thoughts but to observe, to witness whatever manifests during your practice.

Maybe it’s a body sensation or an emotion. Are you caught in past events or thinking to the future? The aim is to observe these patterns of the mind. The more you are aware of your mind and thoughts, the more you are able to witness,  in doing so, you start to know a lot more about yourself.

This ability to witness will transfer naturally to support you in your day-to-day life.

3 benefits of Establishing the Witness

In day-to-day life, developing the witness – the ability to be unaffected by what life throws at you – builds the resilience to cope better with modern life.

Here are three benefits of establishing your witnessing consciousness:

1. You become less reactive.

I’m pretty sure that you have experienced a situation where you reacted strongly or emotionally, and later you wished you had reacted differently—maybe pausing, breathing, and reflecting before you responded.

And then later, the situation replays in your mind about how you should have done or said this or that?

Almost everyone has experienced this kind of situation, and that’s exactly where a strong cultivation of the witness is really supportive.

With a regular yoga and meditation practice, as I’ve described above, you are able to prepare your mind for when these challenging moments occur. Your habit is to reflect and to see more clearly the reality of the moment and the whole picture of the situation. And with those precious moments of reflection, you have more chance to choose consciously how to act.

benefits of establishing the witness
2. Your intuition has space to be heard.

The mind is busy all the time, always in conversation (with itself!), and we’re always completely lost in the process of our thoughts. It’s hard to be able to recognise and hear the wisdom voice of your intuition coming through.

If you mentally pause, looking as a witness, connecting with your true nature, you’re able to find mental space and connect with your inner self—the voice of intuition, the cultivated witness consciousness.

3. You gain more awareness over your mental patterns.

The mind is like a naughty child, so we must be mentally and emotionally cautious. Your mind wants you to go here, there, and everywhere. The mind also mentally replays the same memories and experiences. “If I had chosen this instead of that, if my parents had done this or that.” This person hurt me, and so on, over and over again.

Frequently, these mental movies trigger and damage you emotionally, without any benefit to your mental well-being.

Embark on your path to cultivating the witness with this complimentary 10-minute meditation practice. 

By becoming aware of the thinking process and observing and witnessing the thoughts, you have the chance to reflect and question yourself. Is there any positive outcome to all these mental trips?

Developing your awareness and cultivating the witness of your thoughts allows you to access the roots of the most negative patterns of your mind. By observing them, witnessing them, and pulling out of the conditioning of your mind, you can realise the tension created by these patterns, expressing your mind in a more joyful and harmonious way.

If you enjoyed reading this article, you may also like to read…

Why it’s important to be mindful

You are not your thoughts

Why Meditation is good for you

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