In an experiment on the niyama (yogic observance), tapas (austerity), this Axis Yoga Teacher Training student found transformation. This student used the power of Yoga to move from “stressed, anxious and drowsy to refreshed, grounded, and calm.”
One month ago I was living an unsustainable lifestyle. I awoke feeling exhausted, often hitting the snooze button “just one more time” two or three times in a row. Then, finally coming to, I would stumble to the kitchen to make coffee. At the end of the first cup of coffee, I could feel my eyes opening but by the end of the third cup, I felt exhausted again. That was my daily ritual, my previous attempt at sadhana.
I began this experiment because I was drawn to the word tapas and the concept that heat could somehow change deeply rooted habits, samskaras. As I puzzled over this complex philosophy in the weeks leading up to the experiment, I found myself unable to understand the correlation between a word meaning heat and the concept of austerity. I devoted myself to try and crack the meaning behind this elusive term by committing to remove mind-altering substances (caffeine, alcohol, sugar, etc) from my life.
When I committed to remove caffeine, alcohol and sugar from my diet, I knew that I would need to fill the emotional and habitual void with a new practice. Thus I began practicing the four purifications, a pranayama breathing practice, followed by a period of meditation every morning. This new ritual quickly became one of the best parts of my day. I started creating a rigid sleep schedule for myself based on my Ayurvedic body type and found that I was energetic when I woke up and began to prepare for meditation. That was a real novelty compared to the groggy hour or two I had been accustomed to before.
As time went on I continued my morning practice, I found that my energy would vary dramatically from day to say. Some days I would experience a surge of energy through my subtle body channels, nadis, and could even feel great light pouring from my body. Whereas other days, I felt like a lawnmower engine that would almost start, but finally after much effort just wouldn’t turn over. As the days went on and I eased into meditative reflection, I could see some of my patterns emerging from the background of “life as I knew it” and could see how they impacted my energy. The day after eating a spicy, greasy enchilada, I felt weak. After a poor night of sleep, I couldn’t get my mind to stop humming. I was beginning to see, through the mirror of my breath, the impact that these “non-incidents” were having on my energy for life. On days where my energy was low, my ego seemed particularly active and I was quick to find conflict in those who crossed my sense of self. Yet on days where my energy was pure and flowing, I found ease in all my actions.
Through all of my practice in austerity I still find myself experiencing certain cravings. At first this frustrated me greatly and I forcibly shoved the idea of wanting out of my mind. As these urges continued to rise, however, I started to pause and contemplate the pre-thought generating these impulses of desire. Yesterday as I was hankering for some caffeine-based energy, I realized that my craving had (at least) two roots. The first root was a physical need for pranic energy resulting from the meals that I routinely skip and the breath that I allow to get shallow as I stare into my computer screen and let my mind run supreme. The second root was a pattern of consumption to satiate my discomfort in the power and truth of the present moment. When I used to feel bored or stressed, I would self-medicate with these substances and now without them I had to sit in whatever situation I had created for myself.
As I look forward in my yogic path, I can see the need to further purify my body and lifestyle so I can maintain high levels of prana energy. I have experienced such profound variance in my ability to calm my mind with even subtle imbalances like a spicy meal and a late night that I can now sense the great transformational power of the niyamas. The practice of tapas has been a remarkable window into my own being and a perfect mirror as I continue to explore the gross and subtle aspects of bringing my life into yoga.
This Axis Yoga Teacher Training student’s account of applying Ayurvedic principles to daily life is a beautiful example of how simple, yet profound, this system of health can be.
I began my ayurveda experiment with two main objectives. First, bring greater awareness to my physical body and health. Second, work to integrate routine into my life as much as possible. I was not sure what to expect, but I knew that I would have the best chance at witnessing any subtle changes through a daily sadhana first thing in the morning.
As a vata provoked westerner I found the concept of routine extremely challenging upon first glace. The only routine I have had in most of my life is constant change: in my daily schedule, eating habits, etc. I even found a job that exaggerates my tendency toward irregular life patterns, which until now always felt like a freeing notion that released me from the daily grind. I decided to try a mini life overhaul in which I would eat in silence as much as possible, practice sadhana every morning, eat lunch every day, eat my biggest meal as lunch, eat only three meals a day and wake up every day before dawn!
The first day the process was wonderful. It felt great to wake early and practice asana while the sun rose and began to fill my living room. My sadhana practice was deep and I felt a real joy throughout my body – flush with new adventure. Breakfast was a profound experience of oatmeal and nature. As I sat silently and realized I never taste my food like this and that I hardly ever look outside my house before rushing to my car. I enjoyed the shadows on the tall oak trees and the soft sounds of morning in my neighborhood.
Things went on like that through about day 4. That morning I couldn’t quite make it up before dawn. I felt groggy and tired and my sadhana was heavy with tamasic energy. That energy stayed with me through the day and when I reflected back on habits of the night before I realized that I had eaten quite late and quite heavy. As the days continued on I was faced with an ever increasing number of challenges: from late night work schedules to personal conflicts to travel that prevented access to fresh, healthy food. In each of these cases I observed a dramatic decrease in my ability to connect with my subtle body. I also felt a compounding effect: as these incidents piled up, so did the vritti in my mind both in sadhana and throughout the rest of the day.
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