Clearing out the Clutter in House and Head

The self-examination that is encouraged by the Axis Yoga Teacher Training program can result in significant life changes. Through her Yama (restraint) and Niyama (observance) experiment, this student came to some profound conclusions that are now shaping her new path.

Clearing out the Clutter: Introduction

When we began this journey of experimentation with the yamas and niyamas I was filled with excitement and a sense of hope.  Could this finally be the push I need to get rid of the clutter that is consuming my house?  Will I finally be motivated to make a positive change in my professional life?  In short, the answer was no, however, I was able to learn a great deal about myself in the process, and was even able to break down a few walls that I had previously built around myself.

First off, let me describe what I chose for each experiment and why.  The yama that I chose was aparigraha, or non-hoarding/non-attachment.  It immediately struck a chord within me.  I have always had a tendency to be a pack rat and save things that I may need one day.  I usually don’t ever find a need for most of these items, and on the rare occasion that I do, I can never seem to remember where they are hidden away.  I also hoard items due to their sentimental value, whether it is a gift from a loved one, or equipment from days gone by that sparks up nostalgia.  I have a difficult time throwing away an item that I no longer use, especially if it signifies a hobby that I may be interested in or that I hope to take up, but never seem to find the time.

As for my niyama, I had a much more difficult time trying to decide which one to adopt for the experiment.  Shaucha seemed to go hand in hand with cleansing my clutter.   Santosha and tapas were appropriate so as not to desire anything other than what I already had.  In the end, I settled on svadhyaya.  I have felt like I have been floating through life for the past few months, if not years.  This seemed as good a time as any to clear out the clutter in my closets, and hopefully the vritti in my head.  What is it that I want to be when I grow up?  The time is here.  I’m definitely a grown up, so it was time I finally answered that question, with aparigraha and svadhyaya as my tour guides.

Clearing out the Clutter: Aparigraha

For aparigraha, I planned on spending at least 2 hours a week cleaning out one of the various cluttered spaces in my house, which include the spare bedroom, the garage, the basement, and the laundry room.  In addition, I resolved not to purchase any new items, so as not to add to the accumulation of junk in my home.  The third part of my experiment was that I would put together a garage sale and sell some of the items that I no longer needed, putting the money only towards debt repayment.  By doing all of this I hypothesized that I would feel lighter, not only in the space of my house, but also in my body.  I thought it would be difficult to start the process and part with items from my past, but I would feel great once they were gone, with no regret in their absence.  As for svadhyaya, I had no formal hypothesis, only that I would spend time visiting schools for massage therapy and search for a new job, as I have been unhappy and stressed in my current position.

The results were far from what I had predicted.  I had a very difficult few days at work, getting assaulted by one of our female clients.  I found myself so exhausted, both physically and emotionally that I had a difficult time getting started.  I made my 2 hour quota only 1 of the 3 weeks we practiced, with about a total of 2 hours invested in the other 2 weeks.  I never really got past the starting stage.  I was surprised that this feeling came, not from an attachment issue with throwing away my items, but more through an inability to do the work, or procrastination.  There was just so much stuff in the spare bedroom that I felt disabled by where to start.  I also failed to plan a garage sale, partly because I had not gone through all of my clutter, but mostly because I failed to recognize that my weekends were already full.  My apparent failure in these tasks only managed to add to the stress and anxiety that was already present.

There was a bright spot to this maddening experiment that made it all worth it.  I was able to abstain from bringing any new items into the house.  This was huge for me, because I tend to turn to “retail therapy” when I am stressed.  Even though my stress level was at its peak during this experiment, I did not spend money on anything other than necessities like gas, groceries, and the occasional dinner out.  My husband and I used to eat out for every meal, but were able to cut back on this significantly.  This boycott on shopping was difficult at first.  I had to try really hard to remind myself that I wasn’t allowed to make any purchases that weren’t absolutely essential.  By the end of the experiment, it was much easier.  In fact, I found that if I forced myself not to buy something, the urge to have that item passed.  Given time, I realized that I didn’t even really want nor need it, but that I just wanted the comfort it brought me to go shopping.  This goes for both small as well as large ticket items.

Clearing out the Clutter: Svadhyaya

Getting started with svadhyaya was much easier for me.  I always have day dreams about going back to school and changing my career, which is a large reason I am involved in this yoga teacher training.  I took this opportunity to finally gather some information about local massage therapy schools, and to search for jobs online.  I was even able to visit schools and see their programs, and had a couple job interviews lined up.

Yoga training has made me hyper sensitive, and has brought to surface some character traits that I have pushed down for so long.  It has been both a blessing and a curse in many aspects.  At the culmination of this experiment I decided that it was time for me to quit my job, as it has become much like an abusive relationship.  I could no longer justify putting off my purpose in life merely out of guilt for leaving behind my job, my co-workers, and the clients.  The stress of earning money and meeting others’ expectations of me seems less important now than my own physical and mental well-being.

Clearing out the Clutter: Conclusion

In conclusion, though I did not meet all of my expectations for this experiment, I found there were a lot of deep issues in my life other than disorganization.  Though it has been a difficult few weeks, I seem to be on a path now that will allow me to make positive changes in my personal and professional career, rather than continuing to drown in self pity over my situation in life.  Who knows?  Now that I am unemployed, perhaps I will finally find the time to clear out the spare bedroom!

Applying the Principles of Ahimsa and Svadhyaya as a Park Patroller

As part of their teacher training, Axis Yoga students experiment with the application of Yamas (restraints) and Niyamas (observances). This student writes about his experience practicing Ahimsa (non-violence) and Svadhyaya (self-study) in his volunteer work as a Park Patroller. These yogic principles worked to shape his behaviors and reveal greater understanding of his reactions.

Applying the Principles of Ahimsa and Svadhyaya: Introduction

This experiment is an exercise of Yoga components Yama and Niyama. I will specifically examine the behavior pattern Ahimsa toward others and myself and Svadhyaya for my self-explorations of my reactions. I will use circumstances in my volunteer work as a Park Patroller with Jefferson County Open Space parks to explore and practice these patterns. My duties include telling visitors to the parks about county law requiring their dogs to be on a leash while they visit the park. It is for the pets’ safety and for the safety of other visitors in the parks. This is a point of contention for me because of past experience with visitors ignoring the information I give them. This has both bruised my ego and also bruised my belief in rules and order in society. I will highlight experiences from 2 patrols I’ve done and how the practices of Ahimsa and Svadhyaya influenced my behavior.

The process I will be examining reminded me of a Zen fable that I can summarize: A man was training a rooster owned by his prince for cock fighting. After ten days, the prince asked if it was ready, “No sir, he is still vain and flushed with rage.” was the reply. Another ten days, “Not yet sir. He is on the alert whenever he hears another cock crowing.” Still another ten days, “Not quite yet sir. His sense of fighting is still smoldering within him.” Finally after another ten days, “He is almost ready. Even when he hears another crowing, he shows no excitement. He now resembles one made of wood. His qualities are integrated. No cocks are his match—they will at once run away from him.” Through the practice and awareness of Ahimsa and Svadhyaya I will measure my actions and reactions to encounters with dog-off-leash contacts and if they create reactive behavior in others and me.

Applying the Principle of Ahimsa

My first event took place on March 21st at Matthews/Winters Park. I was at the end of my 4-hour shift and met a man getting ready for a jog at the trailhead and his dog was roaming around the area loose. I identified myself and asked if he had a leash for the dog noting it was Jefferson County law that all dogs must be leashed and under their owners control at all times in the park. There are also hazards in the parks from wild animals to other dogs to plant spores that would burrow into the skin if his dog brushes by them. He said he had one in his car. I was going to my car to put away my hiking equipment and leave and could not help but notice that the man had looked in his trunk with no leash in sight and was now standing beside his car eating a snack. He kept on looking my way as well. His dog was currently in the car. My assumption was that he was waiting for me to drive off so he could let the dog out to run loose. My job there was done. I could call a ranger if I wanted to aggravate the situation, but there was a forest fire going on in Golden so this would not be a high priority unless perhaps the dog was attacking people. So here was my challenge, loiter around to deliberately throw him off his schedule and me off of mine or leave and deal with my feelings later. I left the park. Practicing Ahimsa for the dog was easy. Pets count on their owners to keep them safe. I’ve had pets for most of my life. As for the owner, it was more difficult. Hearing about wild animal attacks on pets in their own backyard, or the annual winter news stories of loose dogs falling through thin ice at a lake or reservoir, it is easy for me to question a person’s love and loyalty to their pet while witnessing or hearing about this reckless behavior over and over again. Unless they live in a cave, they have no excuse not to know the risks involved.

The second event took place on March 29, 2011 at Mt. Falcon Park before I even got out of my car. I was driving into the parking lot when a loose dog darted in front of my car. I barely missed hitting it. I was seething. I managed a composed voice when I asked the people lingering in the parking lot whose dog it was. It turned out that none of them owned the dog. It apparently was a neighborhood dog that someone let run or it got out of a yard nearby. By the time I got a leash to try to corral the dog, it was gone. This provided a unique challenge since I had no actual person to attach my feelings to. Like my first example, this was similar to the emotions I feel when hearing about a pet injured or killed in an attack or the falling through thin ice scenario. So I sent Ahimsa toward the dog to make it home safe and practiced some yogic breath exercises to settle my mind. I also practiced Ahimsa toward myself not to let this event influence my mind for the next four hours of my volunteer shift. Ahimsa to the faceless owner was difficult again. Later in the shift, I encountered a gentleman with his grandchildren and a poodle sized dog off its leash. I identified myself and informed him of the county law. I also started to talk about the coyotes frequenting this park and he basically finished my speech for me saying he didn’t want his dog being someone’s lunch. I left the encounter in good spirits that I helped the visitor with information to make the right decision and saw them later on the trail with the dog still on its leash. So I think the Ahimsa toward myself helped me keep a level head and treat the second contact as a separate event and not pile on to the previous unpleasantness when I first came to the park. The Ahimsa practice is still a work in progress for me.

Applying the Principle of Svadhyaya

With the Svadhyaya component, I had quite an enlightening experience. Both recent and long-ranging personal history has led me to the core of my emotions regarding the dog-off-leash contacts I’ve made as a park patroller. In the spring of 2010, my mother-in-law was walking her Cairn terrier around the block. She doesn’t venture out very far because of Macular Degeneration in her eyes leaving her legally blind. Unfortunately, on this day, a neighbor’s dog got out of its yard and attacked my mother-in-law’s dog. In the commotion, she fell breaking her nose along with other scratches and scrapes. The neighbors responsible were gracious enough to pay the medical expenses and come to visit. But the memory of her injuries has made me more sensitive to the situation when I see people deliberately let their dogs run loose.

Some deep historical reflections led to the realization that my behavior explorations originated in childhood. I was ‘the good son’ in my family. I did what I was told and was relied upon to complete my chores to keep the house functioning. My younger brother got away with things including not doing his chores. The sibling rivalry was typical and it did have a lasting impression on me when I would see someone bending or breaking the rules. It was a point of self-righteousness for me that stroked my ego. I thought it made me a better person than the people who would cut corners or dodge the rules. The Svadhyaya experiment was valuable in helping me peel away the “ego structure” tied to these “unconscious configurations” that Richard Freeman talks about in The Mirror of Yoga. This observational skill is an integral part of the yoga practice.

Self-reflection through the Study of Yamas and Niyamas

Each Axis Yoga Teacher Training student writes a paper describing their personal experience with the yogic principles of Yamas (restraints) and Niyamas (observances). This student reflected on how the Yama, Brahmacharya (continence) and the Niyama, Santosa (contentment) are already present and working in his current lifestyle.