Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Self-awareness and self-discovery through the body

Journey towards self-discovery SHALINI UMACHANDRAN The Hindu Book Review Tuesday, Feb 20, 2007 Exercises to help children become conscious of their own perceptions and abilities AWARENESS THROUGH THE BODY: Aloka Martel and Joan Sala; Sri Aurobindo International Institute of Educational Research, Auroville-605101.
Rising above the everyday and discovering the interrelatedness of life is a trifle difficult; so handy guides on the subject are always welcome for those who are on such quests. Aloka Martel and Joan Sala's book is an effort to help individuals, especially children and young people, start on their journey towards self-discovery.
The book is based on a curriculum of exercises that the authors developed at schools in Auroville to help children "become conscious of their own perceptions and abilities." They talk of the need for self-awareness and self-discovery, and the means to achieve this higher state of consciousness through concentration and relaxation. The exercises they have developed aim to enhance focus, develop awareness of the different levels of consciousness, refine the senses, and learn how to explore, understand and manage emotions. The ultimate goal is to make children who go through this programme become aware of the higher state of consciousness they can achieve.
Aloka and Joan, who have backgrounds in physical therapy, were requested by teachers at a school in Auroville to give classes to improve the children's posture. In the book, they describe how "after a few classes we realised that, along with work on posture, there were a number of other things that the children needed to know and experience. They needed to acquire more self-awareness, responsibility for themselves and their actions, and an understanding of their limits and capacities."
And so began the developing of a programme, which over the past 14 years has evolved into `Awareness through the body'. They describe their book as merely a guide, and advise teachers to make any changes they see as appropriate and necessary to adapt this to their particular setting.
The authors have drawn extensively from various sources while developing their curriculum. Apart from the teachings of Sri Aurobindo and The Mother, which they say their programme is based on, they have obviously been influenced by principles of Yoga, Reiki and similar disciplines. Many of the exercises and activities are based on concentration, focussed breathing and tapping into energy flows.
`Witness attitude'
`Awareness through the body' would demand as much from the teacher as from the student - a prerequisite for any teacher trying to set students on a path of self-awareness and self-discovery would be an evolved degree of self-knowledge. While this book does put forth some novel methods, most would probably not work in a regular school setting where teachers, students and resources are stretched to capacity. Most of the exercises they describe for students to develop concentration and awareness require a great deal of time and patience.
The `witness attitude' is at the foundation of all principles on which this is based. It is the developing of an ability to separate the self from the surface existence of feelings, thoughts and emotions, and look at everything that happens as a spectator in order to become aware of the inner self. If that sounds terribly impressive and portentous, there's more to come with the discovery of "subjective sensory landmarks", understanding "planes of the being", and "opening access to the inner self and, later, to the psychic being." With its very solid textbook feel, reading is sometimes a bit exhausting, especially with the repetitive paragraphs about "existing connections between mind, emotions and physical body" and the importance of developing concentration and being in touch with the self.
Aloka and Joan work upon many basic principles, such as being tuned to the mood of the class essential in any classroom. The situations that they describe show that they are obviously very patient and creative teachers, always willing to experiment and go with the flow of their class while maintaining the larger picture of the goals they have set for the children.
More than for the abstract wisdom and exercises that it contains, this book is valuable as it shows that teachers need to be responsive to students, that innovation and creativity are necessary in the classroom, and that with the right kind of support children will discover their capabilities and take, give and expect the right amount of responsibility.

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