Tag Archive for: faith

As part of Denver’s Axis Yoga teacher training program, students conduct experiments that incorporate yogic priciples into their daily lives. Coming into the program with a clear and strong set of spiritual and philosophical beliefs, Sarah found herself losing sight of those as she became more and more immersed into the program. This loss of focus on her core values provoked skepticism in her acceptance of many yogi beliefs. The following is  a description of her process of questioning and confronting the fear of faith.

I planned my personal experiment with a typical beginning, middle and end. However, the experiment took a quick left turn and ended up going down a much different path than expected. As this paper will describe, I found the end result was exactly what I needed.

Over the last couple months of soaking up a lot of new information, I continually found myself questioning some of these new theories. How was I to be sure that what I was learning wasn’t a lot of ethereal nonsense? I was surprised by my skepticism, but it was unrelenting. So when presented with the opportunity to do a personal experiment, I decided to research some of the yoga and Ayurveda claims. I hypothesized that by arming myself with enough data I could then clearly delineate what is factual and what requires a leap of faith, thus preparing me to become a true yogi.

I spent the first two days researching the internet to find data that would substantiate some of the claims and methods I’d been learning about. Here is a sampling of what I found:

Question: How does yoga heal on an anatomical level?

Answer:  Certain yoga poses stretch muscles that from animal studies are known to stimulate the lymph system. Lymph is known as the body’s dirty dishwater. The lymphatic system carries infection-fighting white blood cells and waste products of cellular activity. Yoga asana promotes the draining of the lymph.

Also, yoga asana has been shown to affect the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems by initiating a process that turns the fight-or-flight system (sympathetic) off and the relaxation response (parasympathetic) on. This causes the heartbeat to slow and respiration and blood pressure to decrease.

Question: Does pranayama have any physical effects on the body aside from calming the nervous system?

Answer: One study showed that yoga breathing through a particular nostril, or through alternate nostrils increases hand grip strength. The practice of mudras and simple breath awareness showed no change in grip strength.

Pranayama also helped prevent free radical damage in coronary artery disease patients.

Question: Can mediation replace other medical therapies yielding similar benefits?

Answer: In a study of chronic pain patients, 10 weeks of meditation practice resulted in statistically significant reductions of present-moment pain, negative body image, inhibition of activity by pain, symptoms, mood disturbance, and anxiety and depression. The use of drugs for pain decreased and activity levels and feelings of self-esteem increased.

Question: Is honey toxic when cooked?

Answer:  Most information found on this subject said no. However, according to one source (credibility not confirmed) “cooking honey is toxic from chemical changes that occur during cooking to create cancer causing chemicals as well as accumulates free radical heavy metals into your body.”

I found this information to be interesting but also rather random and incomplete. The conclusion I came to after these two days was two-fold. First, there are far too many questions and too much data to try and process in just a couple weeks. This should be a life-long study as my interests take shape and unfold in new areas. Second, I have a fear of faith. And this is where my experiment took its turn.

I started this program with some concrete beliefs that I’ve long held and was searching for a system to fit these beliefs into. But once I started to learn so much I lost track and started doing the reverse. I began taking outside beliefs and trying to find proof to help me have faith in them. I decided it was time to let go of my fear of faith and simply listen to what the Divine inside of me is saying. I therefore changed my experiment to focus on the application of what I’ve learned in this training program. My new hypothesis was that by focusing on what I do believe, rather than what I don’t believe, I can find deeper faith and peace than I can by searching for proof. My method for testing this hypothesis was to begin a practice that I will carry out beyond graduation from yoga teacher training. In essence, stop learning about being a yogi and start living like one. 

I began by writing out my core beliefs. This provided me with a foundation to build upon. I then designed a daily routine. This included my waking time, prayer, asana, pranayama, meditation, self-care and continued study of yoga texts.  For my meditation practice, I contacted Santosh for a recommendation on a mantra (he gave me Om Gum Ganapataye Namah) and purchased a mala of 108 beads to help keep me focused. I also set an intention to be present; to actively stop dwelling on anything past and not striving incessantly for the future. I let go of any expectations that I will adopt these changes perfectly at the start. I have been forgiving and kind toward myself, knowing that my practice will ripen over time. Finally, I created a schedule of yoga classes that I will attend once I’m no longer learning from Axis.

Over the course of this experiment I have found spiritual growth in setting a routine. When I first approached this idea from our Ayurveda section, I expected to feel physical benefits. I can’t say I feel any better or worse but it has given me a way to actually practice my spirituality. And this is what I was missing. I had my core beliefs but very little context for them. Now I have a way to express and deepen my faith on a daily basis. I have also enjoyed the process of refining my yoga practice with each new experience. For example, experimenting with the order of my sadhana and finding what works best for me. As well as realizing that visual meditations aren’t as helpful to me as using a mantra. This process makes me feel as though my practice is my own and I’m not just following someone else’s directions. This is how I know I am working through my fear of faith, because originally I wanted someone to hand me a complete set of instructions for how to be a good yogi and why it’s all worth it. Now I have grown to listen to the teachings from my own heart instead.

Setting an intention each day to be present and live consciously has also been powerful. I made this attitudinal change years ago but combining it with my other practices gives it additional strength. It has been especially helpful in this vata season to help keep me grounded. Rather than darting from one task to another, always with an eye one what’s next, I’ve worked on appreciating the moment. I’ve begun to decline invitations in order to keep space in my schedule for me to just relax and stay caught up. While part of me regrets missing out on those activities, I appreciate the calm I am able to maintain.

I certainly haven’t been perfect. Some nights I stayed up too late and had to miss some of my morning routine to catch up on sleep. Some days I ate poorly and felt the ill effects. Over the Thanksgiving break I caught a cold while travelling and completely fell off my schedule with that double whammy.  However, having given myself forgiveness and kindness during this process, I finish feeling successful and excited about this continued lifestyle. Including a post-teacher training schedule and continued study into my methodology for this experiment gives me confidence that I will transition smoothly into the next chapter of my life as a yogi.

I can’t even count the number of times during this teacher training that I was told “your own personal experience will be your best teacher.” Now I can fully agree that this is true. As I had hypothesized (the second time anyway), I have re-connected with my faith by focusing on my core beliefs rather than on the unknown and the uncertain. And is this not the definition of faith itself?