The following posts describe one Axis YTT student’s efforts to rid the body of residual rubbish through the niyama, tapas. Creating internal heat through pranayama and asana resulted in multiple benefits, both physically and emotionally.
Ever since Winter hit and I got my job camping out in the wilderness every other week, I had been finding myself lethargic and toxic. I was eating low quality foods like ramen, simple grains, and cheap cheese all week, and then coming back home every other week to find myself “too busy” to keep up my regular yoga practice, or even exercise. The wilderness therapy job did, however, leave me feeling spiritually fulfilled and in a calm and clear mental space, so when I was asked to create an experiment pertaining to the ethical precepts of Patanjali’s Ashtanga Yoga, I knew that I would like to work with that residual toxic feeling leftover from the job, and the lethargic feeling it left me with.
The Niyama Tapas deals directly with the internal “rubbish” of the body, and heating the body with activities such as asanas and pranayama as a way of expelling that rubbish. It also pertains to eating and habits and breathing patterns as ways to internally cleanse the body. In order to implement this internal cleansing process in my life, I first and foremost made it a point to resist that lazy urge not to get off my butt and move in the morning, and engage in some sort of physical activity (including asana and pranayama) every day. I also committed myself to not eating when I was not hungry, which has been a bad habit of mine for years in times of stress and also in times of celebration.
At first it was extremely difficult to gain that initial impetus to roll out my yoga mat and do asana every morning, and then to abstain from eating breakfast for another stretch of time until I finished my pranayama exercises. I started my experiment late because I had to finish my last week of work, but for a full ten days (including teacher training days), I managed to engage in at least one hour of yoga practice and one hour of other internal heat-producing exercises per day. After the first few days, it became much easier to motivate myself to start, once the life-enhancing effects started to show up in my body as a feeling of lightness and increased energy. The yoga practices almost completely erased my compulsion to eat out of stress rather than out of hunger, and it even had the unexpected result of making sweets much less appealing to me, as well.
I think that the root cause of all of these changes in my attitude and body was the heightened sense of connection to my body that my Yoga practice brings to my life. I have found other subtle changes like an increased awareness of exactly how different foods make my body feel, an increased sensitivity to other people’s bodies and feelings, and of my surroundings in general. I find myself able to stay calm and centered more easily in stressful situations, and I am less and less drawn to toxic substances like alcohol and caffeine.
Also, I think part of what allowed me to break the habit of non-action was the physical cleansing of my external environment after finishing my final week of work. I undertook the daunting project of cleaning my car. I organized things, took them out and put them in storage, and spent several hours scrubbing the inside and outside until my friends thought I had gotten a new car. It sounds so superficial, but that simple act of cleaning out the space in which I practically live, had the effect of cleaning out my mind, as well, and giving me the feeling of organization and the ability to be productive in my life. That type of cleaning falls more under the category of the Sauca Niyama, pertaining to the inner and outer cleanliness of body and mind, but having done that helped immensely in creating the space for me to start the process of creating the inner heat of Tapas to clean out my physical body.
In terms of Tapas, I got the immense gift from this experiment of experiencing firsthand how creating an inner heat can cleanse the body and how that can radiate out to so many aspects of our lives and beings. It makes sense that creating heat in the body would cause it to sweat and breathe out toxins, and ignite the digestive fires to eliminate toxins as efficiently as possible, as well. Now I know kinesthetically the lightness of being that comes with having fewer toxins in my body and how the connectedness with my body that comes with that, translates to a natural decreased desire to put more toxins in my body. I am also beginning to see how working on this one Niyama, has translated in to a natural reinforcement of all of the Niyamas and Yamas in my life, as well. I am grateful to have had this opportunity, and I believe it has brought me back (at least semi-permanently) to my old habits of regular activity and daily yoga practice, which benefit me so greatly.
For the first life experiment in the Axis Yoga Teacher Training program, this student attempted to make a small change in the recognition of Tapas. Through a regular pranayama practice an old observation was rediscovered. This unexpected turn of events made the experiment even more successful.
Austerity; character development; restrain from non-supportive desires.
I always want to end my meals with something sugary and sweet – candy or dessert/treat. I can’t focus on anything else until I get that last satisfaction of my desire which usually only lasts for a millisecond. Immediately after consuming, I am physically ill – headache, dizzy, nauseous and shaky. I know I will feel this way after so then why do I still want it? I want to experience a sense of calm and consciousness beforehand in order to make a better decision or before I start the sweet search and yearning.
Hypothesis: If I don’t allow myself something sweet, initially, I will be agitated and upset from the deprivation. But not having to deal with the physical consequences that usually occur after will only benefit me. Practicing daily pranayama (The Eight Kriyas and yogic breathing) will guide me to a more steady mind and a calmer body. And maybe then, I will be able to stop, think and decide more clearly.
Of course, upon sitting down in the Tapas Group, I had no idea what I was going to pick to observe and experiment upon myself. What is there to share about myself that I want to change, work on, and have others know about me so up close and personal? I chose my specific yama, Tapas, to work on refraining from eating sugar. I immediately judged myself for picking such a surface topic, “Why would one be embarrassed to share that? Who cares? Everyone else is picking a thing to better themselves or observe something hidden within.” I pretty much committed to it, told myself that it will be alright, and that based off of our guest speakers’ insight, I just might discover something from even the simplest of topics…
Practicing the Eight Kriyas every morning was how the experiment was launched. It took me a couple times to figure out where, when and how I was going to accomplish this new ritual. With a boyfriend that sometimes works from home and a dog that thinks my lap is his fair game – tapping into even the dawn of the experiment already required patience and creativity! I caught myself embarrassed of letting my boyfriend know what I was doing. Finally, after being tired of looking for places to hide or having him interrupt me during my exercise, I told him what was up. From there my morning cup of Eight Kriyas was born.
This experiment hasn’t been very difficult. I, again, have judged myself for picking something that isn’t challenging enough. I am not agitated, anxious or nervous as I anticipated. However, a discovery made that was completely unexpected happened one evening. My boyfriend made comment that after getting dinner at the store he refrained from buying dessert because he knows I am trying to do this. I immediately felt horrible and wanted to fix it by offering to let him do what he wants, not to suffer on my account, and that I would even join him in some dessert gluttony.
I simply stopped and let the feeling go through me before I reacted. I have been known to people-please especially at the expense of my own happiness, success and pleasure. The funny thing is that he was not at all upset about it. On his behalf, I just made it up in my own mind that he was dying to have something sweet and that I would save the day. Perhaps these “ideas” aren’t just made up. Maybe I put them there for a way out of the situation — which is a completely separate, but important, topic/discovery too.
During this experiment, I noticed three underlying themes which often occur in my life that just happened to pop up in the course of this particular process: 1) I people-please, 2) I try to save people, most of the time without their consent and 3) I bail out of situations that are too difficult or cause me to have to work. As stated above, the “ideas” might be presenting themselves to me as if to make me notice or stop and go, “Ooooh, I’m doing that again.” The three things discovered were nothing new to me. I had actually uncovered these habits about myself long ago. The re-discovery may have been a sign that I had gotten lazy with connecting to myself lately. The experiment more or less tapped me on the shoulder, “Hey, just because you have already learned these things about yourself doesn’t mean you’re entitled to just float about. If you really want to change within, you need to be more insightful, genuinely committed, determined and more consistent in your effort.” I like to think that my sugar consumption was a way to cover up my habit of pleasing everyone else but me. And wanting to change something about myself kind of requires a little more work than I had put forth – it won’t go away just by the realization. It’s possible that since this experiment wasn’t a struggle, it’s a sign that I may be on the right path to paying attention to what I really need, yet also a reminder to not lose myself either.
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