I was inspired this morning by an article I received in an email newsletter from Yoga International. It had a link to an article on Yoga Philosophy Basics: The 5 Niyamas, which I highly recommend you take a moment to read. It was also very ironic, as the focus/theme of the month at the studio I teach at, 8 Limbs Yoga Center, is the niyamas. You might be asking, what are the niyamas? Well, they are basically precepts by which to live your life. Niyama in Sanskrit translates to restraint, observance, rule. It is the 2nd Limb of the Ashtanga Yoga Path, or the 8-Limbed path. In an ideal yoga world, we would be learning these “rules” of Yama (how we behave in the world/guiding universal principals) and Niyama prior to learning things like asana, pranayama, etc. But because of our culture in America (get to the good stuff as quickly as possible), we skip right to the asana and make it the primary focus (which is another blog in itself, so let’s not get too off topic).
The 5 Niyamas are: Saucha (purification, cleanliness), Santosha (contentment), Tapas (self-discipline), Svadhyaya (self-study) and Ishvara Pranidhana (self-surrender, or trustful surrender to a higher power). I have decided this week to hone in on Tapas, as I just finished a 2-week cleanse that really demanded the highest level of Tapas. I have been struggling with my addiction to sugar for many years. It wasn’t until very recently (thanks to my husband) that I recognized it was a problem and indeed, an addiction. I couldn’t go a day without having something that was sweet (not just fruit, but something chocolate). Sugar was beginning to rule my life, fog my brain and had also put a little extra layer onto my body.
I decided (on the recommendation of a few other yogis) to try the Conscious Cleanse. It is a 2-week led cleanse by two ladies in Boulder, Jules and Jo (or you can just buy the book and do it yourself as well). The cleanse rules eliminated the following foods/stimulants: caffeine, sugar, wheat, gluten, soy, dairy, nightshade plants and alcohol. This meant giving up my beloved morning cup of coffee, my afternoon chocolate fix AND my evening glass of wine. WHAT? Yep, total mental freak out. How could I do this? What can I eat? How will I feel without that morning jolt of joe (um, pretty damn rough, the first few days)?
That’s when I realized undertaking the task of cleansing was going to require Tapas – discipline, full determination and effort to create new, healthier habits. To surrender my old habits was going to take some SERIOUS effort. I mean, like way harder than any of the asanas that I do on the yoga mat. Getting on my mat and practicing to create Tapas is easy work in comparison to the Tapas that occurs off the mat. But I also noticed, that all that hard work and effort on the mat, in the studio, translated well into my journey on the cleanse. I was able to dig deeper and recognize that my “need” for certain food was not really a physical craving, but an emotional need that needed to be filled. As a kid, I always fell back on sweet treats to make me feel better. And with this Tapas of cleansing, I recognized that those same habits had followed me into adulthood.
I am happy to say that I have made it to the other side of the cleanse. Two weeks later, I am about seven pounds lighter and feeling so much BETTER in my body, mind and spirit. My diet now includes a morning green smoothie and lots of green throughout the day. I have developed some great new habits, not only in my diet, but also in my mindset. My asana practice feels steadier. My meditation practice feels clearer. I have a deeper appreciation of what it means to take the practice of Tapas, off the mat, and put it into my life. And really, isn’t that ultimately what the practice is all about? How we can take the stuff that we learn on the mat and bring it into the world? It’s hard and definitely takes some serious Tapas. But it is well worth the struggle and effort that will hopefully lead to change, growth and transformation.