Diet, Daily Routine and Dharma. These 3 “D”s were what made all the difference for one Axis Yoga Teacher Training student. For the final experiment of the training this student aimed high, creating a plan to bringing forth the life that was meant to be. Read how this one experiment has created a life-long endeavor to live as one was put on this earth to live.
“To keep the body in good health is a duty… otherwise we shall not be able to keep our mind strong and clear.” – Buddha
This quote illuminates my intentions going into my personal experiment. Throughout the course of this training, I have realized that my emotions run unbridled throughout my being and my body is lethargic and at the whim of cravings I feel helpless to control. As a result, my mind is incredibly muddled, hazy, and teaming with anxiety and confusion. The focus of my personal experiment was upon integrating many of the aspects of yoga that have been highlighted in the training (Sadhana, Meditation, Asana, Ayurveda), to move far beyond simply doing the asanas to integrating yogic thinking into every aspect of life. Though this personal experiment spanned the length of 4 weeks, it has quickly turned into a life-long endeavor. I would like to share the design of my experiment and some of the preliminary results.
My experiment officially began on April 14, 2014. This was the first day that I started focusing on incorporating some of the Ayurvedic recommended practices into my daily routine. I also began to focus more on the spiritual aspect of my asana practice at the studio where I attend approximately 4 times per week. My diet was already very healthy, but I began to drink half-caffeinated coffee in a gradual process that I hoped would lead to removal of caffeine from my diet altogether. I also focused on completely eliminating processed foods from my diet. I also attempted to follow the food recommendations for my dosha (kapha) given in Vasant Lad’s book, Ayurvedic Home Remedies. This went on for 2 weeks.
On April 28th, I had an initial Ayurvedic consultation visit with Susan Bernhardt at Essence Ayurveda. This session truly inspired me to become more dedicated to Ayurvedic self-healing. At this consultation, I learned that gluten was likely causing many of the daily issues that I thought were just how life was going to be for me (constipation, gas, bloating, anxiety, depression, urinary tract infections, etc.). Susan recommended that I do a gluten free experiment for 4-6 weeks to see if these symptoms lessened. She also recommended that I follow guidelines for the elimination of excess yeast in my digestive system. This yeast (candida) was likely causing my intense cravings for sugar. In the past these have been so bad that I feel completely helpless to ignore them. She recommended that I take Latero Flora probiotic in the morning before breakfast and a probiotic supplement or food with every meal. Susan created a customized herbal formula for me to take twice a day, apart from meals. She also made a Nasya oil that I put in my nose in the morning. This helps promote a sattvic mind and eases anxiety and depression. On April 30th, I picked up the the herbal formula, Nasya oil, and Latero Flora supplement from Susan and began my full routine on April 31st.
Drink water, take probiotic
Swish oil (coconut)
Nasya oil in nose
Oil body/feet; lavender oil rubbed clockwise on soles of feet to promote digestion
Prepare for work
Each day I try to do at least 5 minutes. Generally it ends up being 20 – 30 minutes. I start by lighting incense and doing the Gayatri mantra followed by the first 24 hand mudras. After this, I do the four purifications and sometimes another pranayama exercise. Then I begin meditation. This has been the area that I struggle with the most because my mind will often wander to what I need to accomplish for the day. Often I just sit in silence and try to focus my mind on my breath. Lately, I have been imagining all of the celestial bodies above my head. Then I breathe them into the pit of my stomach.
I recently got a copy of The Four Desires by Rod Stryker. I’m really excited about the journey that this book will guide me through. I am currently on the first exercise where-in I work to uncover my dharma. I have ordered the CDs that go along with the book and I’m excited to do the guided meditations using this resource.
I continue to go at least 4 times per week to my yoga studio. I try to get to the studio a little early so that I can focus on my mind and set my intention for my practice before class begins. I’ve also started to close my eyes more often while I practice and look around me as little as possible. I also listen to my body and don’t feel that I need to do everything that the instructor cues. I have made it my own practice. I ensure that I lay in shavasana for about 10 minutes after the class is done.
Going completely gluten-free is not very difficult when I am cooking for myself at home. I was already very close to gluten-free prior to the experiment. It becomes slightly more difficult when going out to eat and hanging out with friends. However, I am already seeing the benefits to my digestive system and it is no longer with it to me to compromise my overall feelings of lightness and wellbeing for a piece of bread or a cookie. I also eliminated soy milk from my diet. Though it is gluten-free, it is hard for the body to digest. I switched instead to rice milk.
Eliminating sugar has been slightly more difficult. Prior to my consultation with Susan, I was eating a lot of fruit on a daily basis and using a lot of raw honey to sweeten hot drinks. After my consultation, I began to limit my fruit intake to 2-3 servings per day of non-acidic fruit (apples, pears, mangos). I now keep a ½ tsp. near the honey and only use that much to sweeten my hot beverages. Overall, I limit raw honey consumption to 2 Tbsp. per day.
Eliminating caffeine has not been as difficult as I thought. I was dreading it but considering that I had weaned down to half-caffeinated coffee, it seemed the next logical step. I switched to herbal rooibos chai in the morning. The first day or two were a little rough in the morning. I could definitely tell that my body didn’t know what to think. I felt simultaneously lethargic and antsy. I am now caffeine free. I still think that I will enjoy a cup of coffee every once in a while, probably when I go out for brunch or as a special treat. Even then, I will make a point to have half-caffeinated as a reminder to myself that I don’t want to go back to being addicted to caffeine. I had been drinking coffee on a daily basis for many years and was unable to function without it.
There are many herbs in my customized herbal supplement that Susan created. They assist with all kinds of issues (digestion, elimination, skin, menstruation, joints, anxiety/depression, urination and countless others). I will admit that it’s probably the most digusting tasting stuff that I’ve ever eaten but since I researched each herb I feel a commitment to taking it because I know the benefits that it is giving my body. I take 1 tsp. twice per day apart from meals.
It has been 2 weeks since I started the full routine. Overall, my body feels wonderful. This is a very stressful time in my life as I prepare to move across the country, leave my job, and step into the complete unknown. I have no idea what I am doing next and there is so much work to be done to get everything ready for this transition. Given the fact that this is an incredibly stressful time, I do feel a sense of mental calmness about 50% of the time. The other 50% is mentally stressful and full of anxiety. However, I am getting more effective at implementing breathing techniques to calm myself in these times of anxiety. I am also relying on the constancy and support of this daily routine to get me through. I am committed to focusing on my overall health so that I can have a clear and strong mind.
I believe that this will lead me to my dharma and to finally finding happiness. I realized over the course of this experiment that I have been incredibly unhappy for 10+ years. I am not living the life that I want to live and I am not the passionate, compassionate, fun-loving person that I was meant to be. This has got to change, not just for myself but for my partner, my family, my community, and the world. Through the process of this experiment, I began the steps toward changing my life to be the way it was meant to be.
It’s a funny thing how freedom and grace seem to come most easily from structure and discipline. It can be compared to a good Yoga posture; the foundation and steadiness of the feet and legs can allow the torso and arms to fly. This Axis Yoga Teacher Training student chose to apply this concept in the personal experiment portion of the course. The results are a clear reminder of the importance of routine, especially in the face of big transitions.
I awoke this morning to my daughter whimpering in my ear, “Mommy, get up. I want to go in the playroom…now!” The clock on my nightstand flashed 5:39am. No meditation for me this morning. My head was cloudy, with a dull ache resulting from the second glass of wine I enjoyed during last night’s celebration of my last day of work. My son woke up a few minutes later and our harried morning routine began. I plodded through, my mind distracted by the loose ends I’d left behind after 10 years in a job that I’d once loved, but had outgrown. I managed to get the kids to car line just before the school door closed for the morning. I rushed across town for an appointment, only to be stood up…by my therapist. The first day of the rest of my life was not off to a promising start.
For my personal experiment I chose to continue with the morning routine/sadana practice I began during my ayurvedic experiment. My goal was to follow a routine 6-7 days/week. These are the steps I planned to enact each day:
- Wake up 5:30am
- Splash face
- Rinse mouth, brush teeth and tongue
- Drink water
My goal was to set aside about 45 minutes for the above routine. I chose this experiment because I am looking for grounding during a time of significant transition. I am in the midst of making a career change and I have a lot of negative emotions, baggage, etc. that I need to let go of in order to make space for whatever lies ahead. I have spent time reflecting on what changes I need to make internally in order to move ahead more powerfully. I have recognized that the most critical personal characteristics I want to develop are discipline, confidence and self-acceptance. I believe that my morning ritual, with a focus on the “Healing Blue Triangle” meditation and “Meditation to Increase Shakti,” has definitely helped to keep me feeling not only grounded, but also empowered, released and connected to something larger than myself, as I leave the safety of a job that was no longer tolerable, and move into the great unknown.
The Blue Triangle meditation was introduced to us early on in our YTT, and I loved it. According to the website www.pranichealingusa, the Blue Triangle “is your psychic garbage can. It is used to extract and disintegrate unwanted habits, vices and energies from within you. The longer an unwanted quality has been accumulating in your system, the more time it will take to remove it. These unwanted, undesirable energies may take the form of inner pain, repetitive or obsessive thoughts, compulsive or unwholesome habits or general weaknesses in your personality or in your nature.” (http://www.pranichealingusa.com/product/inner-purification-the-blue-triangle-technique). I have no shortage of that going on, and I loved being able to feel myself pulling negative energy and emotions from throughout my body/mind and depositing them into the magnetic blue triangle, where they were then shot into the ground with bright bolts of lightning. On a couple of occasions I visualized pulling negative energy or pain from my family members and shooting that into the ground as well. I’m not sure if this is appropriate, but I definitely emerged from those sessions feeling more connected and loving toward my family.
The other meditation I practiced regularly was “Meditation to Increase Shakti.” This was also introduced in YTT, and represents the most powerful meditation practice I have had in class. I memorized the instructions in Rod Stryker’s book, The Four Desires and walked myself through it regularly. Basically, after focusing on your breath as 2 streams moving in & out through your nostrils, you visualize a bright almond-shaped flame moving slowly down your spine. You picture it coming to rest behind your navel, shining brightly, while silently repeating “In me, there is a light that lights the whole world. It radiates truth: boundless will, action, & knowledge.” The visualization and the feeling of warmth, radiation and power, kept me feeling energized and intent as I finished up at work, and helped plant a seed for the way in which I will move forward in my next chapter. (Interested in a song I love that this meditation brings to mind? Click here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A4b_KQJNWPQ .)
My main struggle during this experiment was with consistency. I did not manage to commit to 6-7 days/week. I averaged 4/days week, which is 4 days more than I was doing 2 months ago, but definitely leaves room for improvement. This goes back to my need to be more disciplined in general. Intellectually, I know that structure and discipline are important not only in order for me to reach goals and be successful, but also critical for children in order to feel safe and secure. I will be home this summer full-time with my children, for the first time, and this will be so important. Once we have some kind of structure, we can fill our time with openness, fun and adventure. If not, I can see things devolving into chaos. My parents never provided structure and discipline for me (other than 12 years at Catholic school—which I credit with my ability to sit still for long periods of time), and I tend to be resistant to discipline and “authority figures” in general (see above regarding Catholic schoolJ). Again, I have finally recognized that importance of discipline and have a more positive attitude toward it. This is definitely a good thing as I move in the direction of a career as a high school teacher. The ability to set boundaries and clear expectations will be critical to my success in connecting with students.
I also noticed that the closer I got to my final day at work, my mind really fought to hold on to old stories, patterns, hurts, frustrations, etc. In addition, I had a lot of work to logistically wrap-up. I had a much more difficult time quieting my mind during these sessions. I just stuck with it, and kept coming back to my breath, attempting to let the thoughts just float away.
I also decided to move the asana practice from before meditation to after. This would allow me to be sure to get in some meditation (and the rest of the steps leading up to it) before my kids woke up. They are early risers, and it was not uncommon for one of them to wake up and come into the room while I was meditating, my daughter occasionally plopping down in my lap. I would send them to my sleeping husband and get back to meditation. I was very focused on committing to meditation at this time, and felt I would rather miss the asana then the rest of the routine.
I do think my experiment was successful in helping me to start letting go of the past in order to move powerfully forward. This phase of my career transition has actually gone fairly smoothly and I attribute a lot of my relative equilibrium to my sadana practice and this YTT in general. The recognition of the need for more discipline in my life and the desire to take that on and follow-through is another positive result of this experiment. In addition, I have a couple of weeks off before I return to school part-time and my kids are out of school for the summer. I look forward to utilizing this time to commit to a daily 5:30 wake-up and sadana practice. I think it will be easier with the weight of my old job behind me.
Axis Yoga Trainings is for dedicated yoga students who want to apply lineage-based yoga teachings to enhance their personal practice and/or learn to teach others to do the same all within a vibrant and supportive community setting. Over 500 students have completed our grassroots style yoga teacher training.
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