Discipline = Healing

Prior to arriving in India, I had intentions of increasing my sense of discipline and I am happy to say that those intentions are certainly coming to fruition. I also intended to increase my ability to objectively observe my mind, which is another intention that is becoming more viable with each passing day. In addition, I assumed that my physical body would change significantly both internally and in terms of what others could observe externally. I found myself in Mysore at the Atmavikasa Centre of Yogic Sciences ready to work hard and transform as much as humanly possible in the space of three months. I felt very privileged to be have 21% of a year to focus all of my energy on personal growth and healing. I desired inspiration and a reboot on every level of my being. I was facing pain, both present and past – cognitive, emotional and existential – some of which I had been choosing to avoid with food consumption. I simply could not imagine facing all of the pain – sometimes I felt that I only had sufficient power to face some of it. Such feelings were merely illusions; I discovered that I had the power and courage to conquer each and every obstacle all along.

Considering how much I had already been through up until that point, I now can see how my overwhelming fear of facing the pain was inherently irrational. I had already been through the worst of it – now my work was primarily purging and letting go of all the old residue. I had allowed myself to titrate some of the pain over the last decade – but was afraid of doing all the deep work necessary to cleanse myself of the remaining poison inside. I wondered prior to coming to Mysore: what if I break down completely and cannot put myself back together? Am I really strong enough? I have discovered that sometimes we must break the shackles of the past in order to find clarity in terms of self-perception. Childhood was a brutal time of my life and I often felt just the way that I have described above – afraid, always waiting, watching for more violence and uncertainty. As I continue to work through the fear that was etched into every cell of my body early in life – I am starting to know that I am stronger and more powerful than any of that fear, no matter how massive and insurmountable it may seem. Even a past containing memories of a violent, alcoholic father cannot harm me any longer. The more I practice with serious discipline, the easier it is to see the reality that I am strong beyond measure.

Although I practiced regularly at home, my consistency was imperfect. I have found this period of practicing non-attachment through consciously removing myself from my normal social environment and all my comforts has been very useful in terms of developing a deeper sense of discipline. I am still certainly far from perfect, despite my desire to be so, but now I am successfully releasing many years of pent up toxic emotion, along with physical residue from an imbalanced approach to food. Yoga Sutra 1:21 tells us with great logic that the more energy we put toward yoga practice, the faster our results will manifest. I have witnessed fascinating changes in my body, and mind over the last eight weeks. The biggest component of discipline I have appreciated (aside from learning about a different approach to food) is a consistently longer daily pranayama practice – before coming to Mysore I would do a seated practice for only 20-25 minutes, and only 5-6 days a week. I have found the benefits of a 30 minute daily pranayama practice for over two months to be epic and 100% worth my energy. Already, I am noticing much confidence and strength developing both physically, cognitively, and emotionally. I am grateful to have learned so much about cultivating additional discipline in my life and practice – the best part is that I can take all of my learning back home to integrate into my regular life.

When making drastic changes to one’s eating habits or daily physical and mental disciplines, it is amazing how dramatically the body can react. While I was planning my trip to Mysore to study with my teacher’s teachers, I did not anticipate how brutal the physical symptoms of an extreme change in eating habits might be when I started following the dietary restrictions suggested by the teachers at the Atmavikasa Centre of Yogic Sciences. Back at home, my omnivorous eating habits included healthy grains, vegetables and fruits of course, but it also included too many sugars and fats that I chose to eat in order to avoid emotional pain. I already enjoyed many bananas, which were highly recommended when I arrived in Mysore, however overall I simply consumed more food than needed. My eating habits had gotten progressively less healthy for my body over time and I suffered from the symptoms of severe anemia as well. The symptoms of anemia held me back in terms of asana practice in particular, causing extreme fatigue, frequent bruising and very slow muscle recovery. I assumed that once I arrived in India that my biggest struggle was going to be the emotions that I often avoided with food. However, my physical body decided to show me just how much it did not enjoy how I had been treating it instead.

I began following the strict food disciplines offered by the teachers at Atmavikasa almost nine weeks ago. They told us to consume no sugar, animal products, oils, bread, junk food in general, caffeine and so on. Luckily I do not enjoy consuming caffeine so I did not have any headaches. However, I experienced a variety of other symptoms as my body adjusted to the extreme change in eating habits, as I have been an omnivore or vegetarian for most of my life (never vegan). You can call what I have experienced a detox or more simply, my body’s reaction to such a huge change – either way my physical body, not to mention my mind fought tooth and nail through the process. I experienced fever, chills, nasal/chest congestion, diarrhea, and a very unpleasant day of vomiting. My teacher was concerned about the symptoms lasting for so long (ended up being over a 10 day process) and so asked me to go for blood tests. It is plausible that my system was vulnerable due to all the change and I contracted a stomach flu virus as well. Happily the test results all came back normal, despite the symptoms I had experienced, leaving me reassured that no serious tropical disease was present. Not to mention, the unbelievable amount of tears I shed served as an epic emotional catharsis – I felt as though I was releasing years of pent up rage, pain and grief in a matter of days.

Due to the full panel of blood tests, I became aware of an amazing result in terms of my blood iron levels – it turned out that I was no longer anemic! Last time I had been tested, the concentration of iron in my blood was very low (only 7.2) and now it is well within normal levels (66). The range for normal iron levels in a female is 28-150, so as you can imagine I was pleasantly surprised by such a dramatic change in my blood chemistry! I suspect that the spinach, banana and coconut water smoothies were the primary reason for this change. As suggested by my teachers, I also had been consuming a significant quantity of sprouted mung beans, dates and raw beets, which are all high in iron. I certainly made a huge alteration to my regular eating habits, including unusually large quantities of fresh fruits, primarily the fantastic banana. All of the natural sugars left me with absolutely no sugar cravings, which was another surprise for me. I was very happy with all the positive blood chemistry results and have much more energy than I did when I arrived here two months ago. I am pleased to have a great way to combate anemia with nutrition rather than iron supplements which are very rough on the digestive system. I feel inspired because anemia has been an issue for quite a while! It makes me happy that my levels are now high enough that I can be a blood donor again too.

Studying at Atmavikasa has had SO many layers that I struggle to know how to articulate all that has transpired. Now, even with almost nine weeks of study completed, I still feel as though I am at the beginning, only merely starting the work that has yet to come. We are never finished when it comes to studying our tendencies. After a given amount of time, it is necessary to see the past for what it is and we must choose to use our energy for transformation rather than rumination. Luckily, the more we choose to cultivate discipline in our lives, the easier it is to focus on our goals, follow through with our actions and attain the results we seek. A great example of how persistence has yielded incredible results is memorizing how to chant the Yoga Sutras. I have struggled to wrap my brain and tongue around these ancient Sanskrit words and yet I am endlessly grateful for the challenge. Not to mention that my memory in general has improved significantly as a result. Perhaps the most beautiful part of a consistent yoga practice is that we are always learning, whereas in many other fields of study, there is a finite amount of knowledge available to us. Within the context of yoga practice, we get to be the scientists, using our own bodies as laboratories where we can perform fascinating experiments until the end.

The doubts that arose during the process were powerful and at times nearly smothering. When we choose to cultivate additional disciplines in our lives, and push ourselves beyond perceived limits, the mind often throws a fit and freaks out – screaming for the safety and strength it does not yet know how to find. That part of my mind was rife with desperation, craving the safety it did experience as it was developing. Yet, I chose to stop myself when doubtful and negative thoughts replayed in my mind. I reminded myself that despite my habits lacking perfection, I had tried my best with where I was at any given time. I am working hard to recognize pitfalls and mistakes either as they are occurring or in the best case scenario, prior to falling into those old holes or habits. Over time, I am learning how to continue with what works and leave what doesn’t serve me. Accepting that sometimes I must do less in order to heal is a lesson that I have been confronted with many times and I believe that due to this epic experience, I will be much more able to discern when less is necessary and when it is not.

My teachers guided me through the challenging days and even insisted that I rest (meaning no asanas for 3 days, doing less in morning asana class for another week and no back bending for over a week) even when my mind was fighting to attend class despite the weak state of my physical body. At that time, it felt as though I had travelled half way across the world to do nothing – I was either lying in savasana, sleeping and or resting in stillness. In the process of being forced to physically rest, I became that much more aware of my mental patterns – my inherent desire to work hard and go to class even when I clearly needed to physically rest and practice in a different way. Being separated from the classes and my classmates for that time – especially when they enjoyed the privilege of spending a Saturday morning walking and talking about philosophy with our teachers was rattling for my mind. During that day, I had moments where I felt alone and despondent. However, I quickly came to realize just how crucial it is to maintain mental discipline when I am alone – those moments when we are isolated are often the most difficult and yet full of potential as well. I learned that sometimes practicing yoga means surrendering to rest.

Surrender is not something that comes easily to me. In fact, I would argue that surrendering to the practice and its transformative power has been a significant struggle for me in many phases of my life. No matter how far you go, no matter how much work you do in terms of yoga practice – there is always more to be done. I am learning that perfection is not a static state, rather it is a state of constant evolution. Perhaps what draws me most to the practice of yoga is that very fact: we never need to stop learning, we can choose to learn as if we will live forever. In the darkest moments of the period in question, I felt as though I was being swallowed by the depths of my old pain, fear, grief and rage. There are so many periods and experiences in life that leave us gasping for our proverbial breath – wondering if we can go on. I believe that the most powerful aspect of a consistent and disciplined yoga practice is knowing your own power, your own ability to be courageous even in the face of the worst possible memory or present circumstance. I am grateful to have been blessed with very experienced teachers who are able to share what they know as it applies to the other with great wisdom and clarity. They have been able to see that what I really needed most was to be reminded of my own inherent bravery and strength – my innate power and ability to handle absolutely whatever comes.

 

If you seek to cultivate serious discipline in your practice, you will find what you need in Mysore at the Atmavikasa Center of Yogic Sciences

Potent Change in Mere Weeks

Before arriving to study at the Atmavikasa Center of Yogic Sciences, I tried not to limit the potential of my future experience and did my best to cultivate no particular expectations surrounding what might happen once I began to study here under the guidance of expert teachers, Acharya Venkatesha and Acharye Hema. I am happy to say that every possible imagination or expectation I might have had despite my intention to remain free of expectations has been completely surpassed. I have only experienced two and a half weeks of practice under the guidance of the teachers at Atmavikasa and yet I am struggling to find the correct words to express the depth of experience I have been privileged enough to find here in Mysore.

I have loved my asana practice, my yoga practice as a whole for years and yet did not realize the vast potential that the practice could hold once I began to truly quiet my mind – during posture practice in particular. I am in awe of where I might end up following years of practice with this degree of vigor, strength and quietude in the mind. For many years I have struggled during various postures, particularly those asanas requiring significant strength rather than flexibility. Here  at Atmavikasa, I am slowly, surely learning how to bring my wandering mind back to my breath, back to stillness, despite its repetitive tendency to wander to a multitude of various thoughts.

The patterns of my mind are becoming more and more apparent to me with each passing day. The emotions that repeatedly rise, the thoughts that come with consistency are surely becoming my greatest teachers. I sincerely desire the ability to find control over my mind during asana practice and have only begun the process of cultivating the skills necessary to find the quiet I seek. It is incredible how far and wide the mind will digress in an attempt to avoid sensation occurring in the body. I am amazed by how the long holds in asana practice have the potential to show us all of our behavioural tendencies, our mental habits, one by one – our psychological patterns become more and more apparent. Some of my habits serve me, but many do not. So many of my mental tendencies simply and repeatedly create more suffering, more pain over time. I am beyond grateful for my teachers at Atmavikasa and their ability to see my potential – even when I struggle to see it for myself.

Often, during asana practice, I find my mind focusing on how challenging the work appears to be in that moment, rather than on my breath. Every time I return my focus from the fluctuations of my mind to my inhalations and exhalations, the posture in question immediately becomes more easeful. Effort always remains, but more and more I am beginning to realize that I can move my focus from the fluctuations (whether they manifest in thoughts or emotional state) to the breathing. When my mind stays on the breath, my sense of effort and ease within that particular asana becomes more balanced. It is fascinating how quickly my mind can digress and struggle – squirming like the proverbial worm when asked to hold a posture longer than I think I can – longer than I have previously asked myself to hold such a posture. I am finding that my mind has many tendencies, tricks if you will that lead me to limiting my potential, limiting my mental (and physical) strength and concentration. When I limit myself in asana practice, those limitations spill over into the rest of life; however, when I control the fluctuations, the unnecessary movements of my body, suddenly my ability to control my mind in all aspects of life becomes much more feasible.

Considerations and alterations in my lifestyle whilst studying here in Mysore at Atmavikasa have also led to more change than I ever would have thought possible in such a limited period of time. Eating much more fruit than I am accustomed to consuming has yielded an immeasurable impact on my energy and irradicated my old habit of craving processed sugars. Bananas, coconuts and papayas a plenty have changed my perspective on food more than I would have thought possible. Simply imbibing more significant quantities of water, particularly directly following asana practices has also had an incredible influence on my body, not to mention my mental capacity. For example, my mind has a tendency to often become frenetic, even frantic or panicked during some asanas or kriyas – and I am rather shocked by what a difference significant water consumption has already had on my ability to calm my mind even in the face of various stressful stimuli. Whether or not I will react to a given stimulus is becoming more of a choice, rather than an automatic response – for which I could not be more grateful.

Another lifestyle prescription that has provided immeasurable benefit thus far is the suggestion to take daily barefoot walks in nature. Following afternoon back bending practice, my routine now includes walking in local parks and sometimes time allowing, around local bodies of water. Walking without shoes has always been something I relegated to the warm days of spring and summer back home, and despite the weather being decidedly warm here in Mysore –  I am finding myself ready to heed my teacher’s advice to walk barefoot in all temperatures, for as long as is possible. Making such walks a priority has been very pacifiying for my mind and has made a significant impact in the strength of my lower back as well. I have always had an exceedingly flexible spine; this has been especially the case in my lumbar spine, which in part has led to a fair amount of fear in standing back bending postures for example. With the addition of daily barefoot walks, my lumbar spine feels stronger and more stable than ever before – gifting me more confidence to explore increasing depths in my asana practice. Walking silently and with a mindful attitude, taking in my surroundings, the plants, the creatures (insects, birds, cows, dogs, humans and all others) continues to help me cultivate a sense of focus, furthering the skills necessary to control my mind and its movements.

Another surprising change has occurred as well. My largest organ, my skin, could not look or feel more different than it did upon arrival in India. I have learned that many of us, myself included, are chronically dehydrated, which causes a great deal of unnecessary stress on the entire body, including all of the internal organs. I am now keenly aware of my water intake and immediately notice upon waking in the morning whether my consumption was sufficient the previous day or not. I have been told by family that I look very different and my skin appears clearer and brighter than it ever has before. I have been amazed to observe that several eczema patches on my body have completely disappeared, which I suspect is a direct result of the lifestyle changes I have made, particularly due to the increase in water consumption. The thing that most shocks me is that those patches of eczema had been multiplying and getting increasily larger over time since I was a teenager – now they no longer exist at all. The power of a daily yogic practice and coupled with adoption of a yogic lifestyle is clearly apparent to me now. Back home, I practiced asanas and pranayama almost everyday, however the vigor was nothing like it is here and my lifestyle lacked the discipline necessary to truly and consistently heal my body from the inside out.

The way that I eat has also changed significantly due to the lifestyle recommendations provided by my teachers. At first, I was following guidelines and honestly did not have a lot of faith that a vegan/vegetarian diet could sustain my body during a period of particularly vigorous practice. However, I have found the opposite to be true. I do not miss consuming animal products in the least and have developed an aversion that I did not expect initially. The physical practice that I have been undertaking here in Mysore is more challenging than any asana practice I have previously undertaken, and yet my body appears to need less and less to work harder than ever. I am fascinated by the rapid changes in my body and how I relate to my body during practice and the rest of my daily life. Although, yoga practice has been a love of mine for many years – I feel that this experience continues to deepen that love with a fuller sense of dedication, commitment and respect for the work necessary to cultivate strength of character and a strong daily practice that will bring more and more change each day, each week, each month, each year of my life.

I highly recommend the Atmavikasa Center of Yogic Sciences – should you want to know more please visit:

Atmavikasa Center of Yogic Sciences