At the end of my seasonal week-long kitchari cleanse, and as is usual for me near the end of a cleanse, I felt a tangible shift in a positive direction. I did embark on this cleanse earlier in the year than I usually do – late February – for a couple of reasons. One is that my Spring gets very busy leading others through seasonal cleansing so it would get harder to take more time for myself, and the second is that I had been having some skin issues I’d never had before. I needed to step back, take care of agni, get my dinacharya back in line, as well as directly asses this imbalance. (And I saw amazing results, by the way, which I will share with you soon.)
One night towards the end of my cleanse, after teaching a yoga class, I experienced a moment of clarity. It was a rare moment where I was catching transformation in the works. Simply sitting and watching my students in savasana, which I have done hundreds of times before, I could sense my life was changing. In that same instant, or immediately afterward, I felt something like fear, something like the expectation of grieving, as though in this transition I was losing something too.
What might I be losing?
Something felt so right, yet something else inside yells “No!” at the same time, and I simply sit watching over my students, and wait. Is it the ego feeling that it could be losing some of its influence, that is still shouting no to change?
During this cleanse, I was waking up super easily around 6, which is always a challenge for me. I may get in bed around 9:30, but I will still easily sleep until 7, or 7:30 in the winter. I do not feel groggy when I get up, I feel like I need about 9 hours this time of year. But for the last few days of this cleanse, 7 or 8 had been fine, a rarity for me. As my self care routine (dinacharya) grows, I am realizing how important it is to get up that early. I have gradually been increasing my daily yoga and meditation practice from 5 minutes, to an hour, over the past 6 months. I have made my practice area so inviting, that I can’t NOT head there as soon as I wake up (and retreat there often in the evenings.)
So even though I was luxuriating in the morning hours, I was still surprised how much it is possible to get done now before 9 a.m. When I know I am not pressed for time, emails and the schedule book call less loudly, and my mind is more quiet in my practices.
If you practice yoga in any form, whether you like it or not, change is going to happen.
I suppose if you stop practicing yoga in time, the change will probably stop, so you do have that choice. But if you’re in it, you’re liking it, you’re going to come up against some real challenges, and they’re not always pretty.
My teacher, Cate Stillman, shared an interesting blog post recently clarifying this idea: “The more you go to [yoga] class the more your consciousness moves into the field of the subtle. The more subtle energy in your cells … the more sensitive you become…Many modern-day-yoga lovers go through a phase where they find this new-found bio-electrical sensitivity annoying…You cultivated more consciousness in your cells… Your cells got more intelligent, more organized, more charged with energy and simply more connected to the source.”
Mind, body, soul connection
So why might this be annoying? As you start to listen to the signals from the source, they tend to only get louder. Perhaps your first call came after doing some yoga. It felt so good, so right to be in class, that you knew you had to keep it up. Most of the time these messages of awareness are not coming in full sentences in front of our eyes, they come in a sensation or an image, or ‘gut feeling.’ Perhaps this first message of ‘keep coming back to the mat,’ was easy to hear and to heed – and then it was time for some real talk.
Perhaps your yoga practice started telling you that you need a new job. One that didn’t leave you feeling so depleted that you have to hide the dark circles under your eyes with make up every day. This might be easy to say, but not to easily make happen. It might mean a pay cut, losing insurance, not to mention all the interviewing and searching. Is it worth it to align deeper with your dharma, and get better rest and fewer sicknesses each winter? You decide.
Perhaps you can no longer have even a half of a cup of coffee without feeling an anxiety attack coming on. You love your morning coffee ritual, but you start to feel like you’re having a heart attack after only a few sips. You move on to decaf, then to some fake stuff…then perhaps a strong cup of peppermint tea. You think you can handle a cup when it comes to a special occasion so you try again – only to have heart palpitations all afternoon. Annoying. Peppermint tea it is.
These inconveniences may feel like weaknesses, but this is actually the body becoming more receptive, and more subtle. Now your yoga practice is forcing you to change your life…but get this, for the better. As always with this stuff, it can seem so simple, but is not easy.
Again, Cate Stillman: “The more yoga or meditation we do – the more obvious the biorhythms become. The biorhythms aren’t optional. They create a potential of optimal response – or choice making. The more sensitive we become the better the choice we have the potential of making.”
The art of practice
Sādhanā is a ‘discipline undertaken in the pursuit of a goal.’ Yoga practice is a sadhana, even it it starts as simply asanas, or postures. These postures come from an ancient science of purification, working with the physical body, as well as prana, or the energy body. The focused movement also works to calm the mind, though the other aspects of yoga philosophy, like the 8 limbs of Patanjali’s yoga, more specifically lay out a path towards the ultimate goal of samadhi, or liberation.
Liberation implies freedom. When we are free, we are not controlled by anything but our own will.
Part of yoga is the process of detachment. I used to struggle with this idea, thinking that if I was detached from everything, I would lose my humanness, maybe my self. But all of this is an exploration of what that self really is. It’s not shunning the personality, but refining it to it’s truest from. Becoming who you really know you are and want to be. Your best self, to best function as a human being in this world.
So I like to think of detachment as ‘attaining a higher perspective.’ In this case, without detachment one is afflicted with the continuous worries and restlessness produced by desire and personal ambitions.
“True will power is not measured by the ability to get what we want, but by our ability to transcend desire. Desire is not the result of our free choice. It is a compulsion that comes from the external world, a kind of hypnosis.” (Ayurveda and the Mind, Frawley)
Perhaps the sharp “No!” I heard alongside the deep satisfaction and maturation I felt was surrendering of attachment to desires. And so it hurt a little bit.
David Frawley also reminds us that “various forms of self-discipline, like any other voluntary control of the sensory or motor organs, help develop the will.” The will being that ability to transcend the ups and downs of desire.
My seasonal cleansing is consciously a period of self-discipline. The regularity of my cleansing is purposeful – yes at the junctions of the seasons to take advantage of those qualities – but for consistency in self study and the deep sadhana of self-study.
Tools for making change:
*Create a special area for your practices in your room or your house that is warm and inviting and clean and void of distractions. Make it cozy with pillows, your mat laid out, smelling good, candles, whatever invites you in.
*Invite regular ‘cleansing‘ into your life and view as investing time and or money in your best and caring for yourself, rather than dis-liking or discarding the ‘old’ and the ‘bad’ you. Change can’t help but happen, and even if sometimes you feel like it’ two steps forward and one back, your cells will remember.
*Try this practice my friend Sarajean calls ‘harvesting awareness.’ Sit in a comfortable posture for meditation, connect with your breath, and ask two questions: “How do I feel?” and “What do I need?” Start listening, and perhaps even acting on what you hear.
You get me? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.