I like uncomfortable situations. I prefer choosing the road unpaved. Twice, I picked up my life and moved to two new cities for the sake of adventure. I backpacked solo across Vietnam without knowing the language to see how well I could survive on my own. I left my full-time job to now build a company and am barrelling towards the unknown. I get myself into all sorts of uncomfortable situations, because I see them as accelerated learning opportunities.

If you didn’t know this about me, I also teach yoga. I completed my 200 hour yoga teacher training when I first moved to Denver as a way to get over my public speaking anxiety. Having to speak and hear the sound of my own voice for 60 minutes straight was very uncomfortable. I almost threw up right before teaching my first class! I now love teaching and speaking.

Uncomfortable situations jolt you out of established patterns and perspectives. They allow you to discover something new about yourself that was always there. Developing this sense of self-awareness is now a recognized key to success. Humans are complex, but self-awareness can turn even the most complicated issues into simple solutions.

Despite what you see on Instagram, yoga is the practice of developing self-awareness. It’s the process of removing all the temporary clutter out of the way to get back to your higher self. Studying The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali has given me so many tools to navigate uncomfortable situations and stay centered when life feels out of balance. These ancient teachings have survived place and time, and I find them especially relevant in my modern day challenges as a first-time founder finding self-awareness.

Here’s the foundation, and I think, all you need:

1. There is the Seer (true self) and the Seen (your everyday self)

The Seer is the part of you that never changes, the part of you that witnesses and sees yourself from a higher place. This is the whole, authentic and best version of yourself.

The Seen is the part of you that is reactive and temporary. The Seen finds its identity through the everyday fickleness of the mind.

These two parts of you co-exist together, but due to human nature the Seen usually dominates.

2. The modifications of the mind do not define the Seer

Patanjali says there are five kinds of vrttis, or mental modifications, that distort your perception of Self and pull you further away from identifying with the Seer rather than the Seen. It’s all the low-level noise that make us focus on superficial stuff rather than the important stuff. The most important aspects to know about the vrttis are that they’re not permanent.

Think back to a time when you were overwhelmed with frustration. You might have been filled with crazy emotion and found it hard to think straight. That overpowering emotion is vrtti. It was a temporary reaction that might have took over your brain for a moment, blocking your ability to act with all the best parts of you.

3. Self-awareness is achieved when you can distinguish when you’re expressing the Seer or the Seen

There’s a lot of things we can’t control in the world, but we can control our thoughts and how we react. It’s not easy, but it is within our power to choose.

You can choose to allow the vrttis of life to take over, to associate yourself with in-the-moment distractions/feelings/thoughts…or you can choose happiness and try to see the zoomed out picture. In tough conversations, it takes empathy to realize that the other person is also processing their vrttis and everyone is just trying to do their best to be human. This moment doesn’t define them or you, it’s the product of all the vrttis doing its damn thing.

I had the pleasure of meeting a woman today who just graduated from Galvanize’s developer bootcamp and who is also a mother returning to the workforce. While some of her younger peers dropped out of the bootcamp due to the inability to process stress, she had this awe-inspiring sense of self and being grounded in perspective that ultimately led to her successful completion. She expressed the Seer in herself, and chose to not less the stress define her.

For some reason the universe has conspired against humans and made it tough for us to be the best version of ourselves. The universe has given us things like Instagram, anxiety and a glass ceiling for women. BUT…it has also given us the agency to make better decisions and that’s all we can try for.

“When you know better, you have to do better” – Maya Angelou

It’s a tough practice, but so rewarding when you can apply to everyday life and start making tiny breakthroughs. Meditate on it, give it a go and let me know how it works out for you!