Developing Internal Awareness

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We lose internal awareness and with that we miss messages that the body is trying to send us.

– Michelle Stortz


My job in teaching yoga to cancer patients is to facilitate a healing process. One of the first things we look at in this process is internal awareness. In turning inward, participants begin to tease apart the different internal phenomenon, all of which will, in general, fall into one of three categories: physical sensations, emotions or thoughts. Why is this important? In our fast-paced, technology-driven world, we’ve become so externally focused that we’ve lost our ability to feel and to understand what we’re feeling. We intentionally ignore internal sensations in order to accomplish tasks. Over time, with enough ignoring, we lose that ability to feel. We lose internal awareness and with that we miss messages that the body is trying to send us.


When you close your eyes and turn your attention inward, notice the transition from external to internal awareness. Notice what is prominent. Is it a sensation, an emotional state or mental activity? Scan the body and notice what sensations are prominent. Cold toes? An ache or pain? Tension in the shoulders? See if you can begin to notice the difference between the actual sensations in your body and the thoughts you have about those sensations – the comments, stories or judgments – in your head. Separate those two actions – sensing and thinking. Just focus on sensations. Imagine you are a scientist collecting data – what are the prominent sensations on the body?


Now shift your awareness to the emotions. Label what you notice even if it is uncomfortable. This is not about changing the emotion or pushing it away, but acknowledging that it is there. Try not to get pulled into the emotion and it’s story. Stay removed and cultivate a witness-like quality of attention. If it is not clear what is present, tune into the feeling tone in the body. Is it pleasant, unpleasant or neutral? This is how we sense emotions. They create feeling tones in the body. You can always use, pleasant, unpleasant or neutral to understand the nature of your current emotion.

State of Mind

The third realm of internal phenomenon is mental activity or your thoughts. Notice the general state of the mind. Is it very active or agitated? Or is it sluggish, sleepy, and heavy? It may feel awkward to try to notice the mind without actually “thinking” but just imagine that you could stand outside of yourself and see the activity of the mind. How would you describe it? Try not to judge what you find, just notice, and avoid getting pulled into the mind’s activity. Just label what you notice. Keep in mind that you are not your thoughts. Thoughts come and go like the weather. You do not have to believe your thoughts!

Our culture values fast-paced, multi-tasking, high-achieving behavior. We’ve come to think it is a necessity for survival. Perhaps for some this busy-ness has become an obsession and for others it’s a distraction from what’s really happening inside. Of lesser value, culturally speaking, is internal steadiness and peace. How do we maintain a sense of calm awareness regardless of what’s happening around us? To observe and detach from the chain reaction of thoughts-triggering emotions-triggering-physical-sensations is a huge accomplishment. Whether on a healing journey or simply wanting more of this steadiness, it is worth spending time developing your internal awareness.

Reprinted with permission of author.

Photo Credit: iStock


  1. Avatar
    Anneke Landman / May 14, 2017 at 11:18 pm /Reply

    Dear Michelle
    I am a breast cancer thriver. I have finished chemo and still busy with Herceptin until October this year. As I am writing this , I am in hospital after a dbl mastectomy. I postponed the surgery in order to complete 200 hrs Yoga Teacher’s Training through The Shala yoga in CT during April. Yoga has been my life line in so many ways during my chemo and everything that goes hand in hand with it. I would love to share this with other cancer patients. I have also completed Integrative Nutritional Health Coaching certification during chemo and feel that there is so little nutritional support for Cancer patients. I have been given direction and purpose through this journey and have to share what I have lived and learned. Do you have any advice on where I can get more info on teaching yoga to cancer patients. Love and light. Anneke Landman

  2. Anti-Cancer Club
    Anti-Cancer Club / May 15, 2017 at 6:36 am /Reply


    Cancer does bring out our desire to give back, doesn’t it? And yoga can be such an important part of the road to health; as is food and nutrition. I’ve been dealing with cancer since 2009, and have made many lifestyle changes. I’ve come to believe that our lives tend to be toxic on many levels and it’s up to us to change this paradigm. Congrats to you for all you are doing! I’ll make sure Michelle connects with you!

  3. Avatar
    Michelle Stortz / May 15, 2017 at 5:34 pm /Reply

    Hi Anneke,
    What a great story – that yoga has been such a support for you during this time! Yes, spread the yoga love! My teacher comes to the east coast once or twice a year. Her website is

    I recently heard this term, “post traumatic growth” which certainly resonates with my story and sounds like it applies to yours. I wish you strength and patience and compassion on your healing journey and inspiration and growth for your work beyond! Warmly, Michelle

  4. Avatar
    Diana / November 20, 2019 at 2:57 pm /Reply

    No there is not enough information on nutrition for cancer patients. Why I wrote my book, Cancer…My NEW Normal! To help people understand how nutrition actually helps you heal.

    Diana Westover

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