(Mental) space renovations

After 11 days in my new house, I’ve come to truly understand just how much choice we have when it comes to setting up the internal spaces of a home. From type of flooring to ceiling styles, from window treatments to light fixtures, you don’t have to settle for what you’ve currently got. There are plenty of home improvement shows on cable that prove you can transform any space if you have the right tools and work systematically — but it has taken being a first-time homeowner to truly drive home the point for me.

The last several days of replacing, organizing and decluttering has led me to think about physical space as an intriguing analogy for, and reflection of, mental space. It’s been slow going unpacking my personal stuff — clothes, books and mementos — because even though I tried to whittle down as much as I could while packing up our old apartment, I was only capable of parting with so much as we departed that space. After our arrival in this new space, I’ve had a little more time (and literal space) to be much more deliberate.

Do I need this? 

Really, do I really need this?

Seriously, what does keeping this around do for me? 

A lifelong pack rat, I’m determined to make this a home that feels clean and open. And along the way, I’m trying to see if I can mirror this determination and this process by decluttering my mental space a bit too. Just as I examine each skirt and shirt I own to see if it should enter my closet or be taken out of this house for good, I’m trying to examine each grudge, resentment and anxiety that arises during this time.

Do I need this? 

Really, do I really need this?

Seriously, what does keeping this around do for me? 

Maybe it’s not quite as impossible as I think it is to become the more even keel person I want to be.

Coincidentally — or perhaps not so coincidentally — the most recent AY:A2 newsletter includes a paragraph on saucha:

Saucha is a niyama suggesting, for practical purposes, that practitioners develop energy awareness, learning to keep the energies around things, people and practices distinct. It’s usually translated simply as “cleanliness.” What does it mean to practice with awareness of mental hygiene, physical, interpersonal clarity and crispness?

Of the suggestions linked, this one stood out to me:

Be cautious about repeating negative thoughts (or talk) in a compulsive manner. You have choices about the (inner) environment you inhabit. It’s funny, but physical practice is easiest when there’s a vibe of kindness and generosity to oneself and others. It is possible to cultivate positive emotions and thoughts while accepting and studying any negativity that arises.

In this reorganization and shedding process, I’m hoping that as my rooms go, so go my mental spaces. It’s this kind of liberation I’ll be thinking about on this Fourth of July, as my husband and I enjoy one of the few full days we’ll have this month to simply relax together in our sweet little home.

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to YogaRose.net with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Lowering the ugh factor: 7 things I’ve done for my digestive system

Photo of ginger via london_lime's Flickr photostreamToday’s mail brought the regular round of advertising circulars. Ponderosa Steakhouse’s unlimited sirloin steak and shrimp offer on weekends. Applebee’s new — NEW! — blackened chicken penne and Bourbon Street chicken and shrimp. Jet’s Pizza.

Eh, eh and eh. None of it is at all appetizing.

(OK, full disclosure: the pizza is still kind of appealing.) The larger point is, the longer I practice Ashtanga consistently, the harder it is for me to eat out. Like many teenagers, I developed a taste for awful fast food in high school — the Mexican pizza at Taco Bell, the fish sandwich at McDonald’s, the curly fries at Arby’s. While my eating habits have improved — slowly — over the years, I have terrible proclivities compared with the yogis I know. I don’t like juicing. I have zero desire to eat raw food. And so on.

Over the past year or so, however, what’s been exciting for me is that I’ve been craving better food, even if I haven’t necessarily been eating better food.

Is it possible that I’ve been retraining my cravings? I hope so (pizza cravings notwithstanding).

Now the big challenge is making it happen: Craving better food and then converting that craving into action by actually eating better food. This is hard because it would require that I spend more time acquiring and preparing food. In my current kitchen calculus, if it takes four steps, it’s on the time-consuming side. And I consider tearing off the packaging to be one step. I know, I know  . . .

It’s not just a matter of principle for me. I really need to eat better, because it’s been affecting how I feel. This past December, after my tests for celiac problems came back negative, I devoted a blog post discussing that ugh feeling plaguing my digestive system. A follow-up blog post listed some great suggestions shared with me.

I’m cautiously happy to report that I’ve been feeling better over the past few months. Here are some steps I’ve taken — thanks the advice of a range of people and, in one ironic case, a fast-food delivery joint — since December:

  • Practiced nauli more consistently in the morning.
  • Started taking probiotics (one capsule daily).
  • Dramatically reduced my coffee intake — down to about one or two cups a week at this point. (I’ve substituted this habit with a pomegranate oolong tea latte from Biggby in the mornings. While this is an improvement, it’s also expensive to do this several times a week, so I have to wean myself off this soon too.)
  • When possible, switching from cow’s milk and soy milk to almond milk. (Looking back, soy milk never sat all that well with me. But I had this idea that it was healthier. Almond milk rocks! Who knew.)
  • Started ditching bread and wraps as much as possible for lunch (hello, sandwiches held together with large Romaine lettuce leaves!).
  • Began to eat a little bit of shaved ginger sprinkled with cayenne before dinner.
  • Started eating smaller dinners.

I’ll elaborate on three of these.

Nauli

Here is what Lisa Walford has written about nauli:

The Hatha Yoga Pradipika states that Nauli stimulates the digestive fire, thereby removing toxins, indigestion, and constipation. It is considered a Shat Karma, which is an internal cleansing to aid with excess phlegm, mucus, or fat.

If you don’t practice yoga, I know nauli looks crazy. But trust me — it’s not painful. I think it feels pretty good when you’re done — it’s hard to explain, but I sort of feel as if I’ve stirred the pot and prevented stagnation.

Started ditching bread and wraps as much as possible for lunch

This has made a huge difference to how I feel during all afternoon on a workday — and I’m as surprised as anyone to say that I got the idea from a fast food place. A freaky fast fast food place, in fact — Jimmy John’s Unwich. It’s a regular sandwich, except it’s got leaves of lettuce holding it together rather than a wrap or bread. I’ve been packing my own lunches with my own lettuce-wrapped creations, including breakfast sandwiches. They’re delicious, and I don’t feel heavy or bloated afterward.

Began to eat a little bit of shaved ginger sprinkled with cayenne before dinner.

This is an Ayurvedic thing. I don’t know anything about Ayurveda, but this is what the California College of Ayurveda says about poor digestion:

The symptoms of poor digestion include excessive gas, constipation, diarrhea, burping, burning, vomiting, indigestion, bloating and pain. In various forms, Western medicine has given them names such as irritable bowel syndrome, ulcers, colitis and pancreatitis among many others. Through the eyes of Ayurveda, the practitioner comes to an understanding of the cause through examining one’s lifestyle. Faulty eating practices are the number one culprit, poor food choices and poor food combing are next in line. Together they make up the major causes of digestive disease.

Why ginger and cayenne? According to this same site:

Kledaka Kapha [subdosha governing the protective secretions which line mucous membranes] can also be too high. When this occurs it suppresses the agni resulting in slow digestion and possible nausea. This condition results from too many heavy, sweet foods and is best treated with the category of herbs called dipanas which increase agni and diminish kledaka. This includes the Indian herbs chitrak and the Ayurvedic formula trikatu as well as common pungents such as ginger and cayenne pepper.

Interested in learning more? I am too. You can start by following the Jangalikayamane blog and reading “How Jedi Knights Should Eat” from the AY:A2 blog. Here’s a juicy excerpt from that blog post, which several yogis I know have welcomed not only for its ideas, but for its perfect timing in their lives:

In any case, those years of “research” and strict food rules did teach me a lot, and did render my digestive fire extremely strong and healthy. Luckily, I kept coming to my mat every day without a break, so gradually I started understanding surrender. Now that I’m more interested in radical acceptance of my own social, temporal, and environmental contexts, and of my own desires, it is easier to nest my eating habits not only my body’s energy economy, but also in the context of personal and environmental relationships.

Had I been more in contact with my own wisdom in those days, my relationship with food would have balanced discipline with contemplation. Turns out that the Ayurvedic approach to eating does just this. The way I’ve been learning it, Ayurveda is not a set of fixes or healing strategies. It’s a holographic map of the whole web of manifest reality. The Ayurvedic approach to eating isn’t an arcane prescription for fixing one’s doshas; it’s a set of practices for becoming conscious of the inner and outer webs of our being.

You don’t even have to study it. Just imagine. What if you showed up to your hunger, and your food, the way you show up to our yoga room and to your physical practice? So… you’d put time and awareness in to getting the conditions right. Do a gratitude ritual. Care about where the recipe and the ingredients come from. Practice in silence, and in excellent company. Breathe. Act with clear, loving attention. Regard strong thought and emotional patterns with a bit of cool skepticism. Take a long finishing sequence to absorb the benefits.

Quick fix? Yeah right. Not in ashtanga and not in eating. This practice teaches us that our bodies are vehicles for past and future choices. Love the rough spots into fluidity, day by day, and let the painful stuff get easier. Recognize that especially deep patterns got there as a result of grasping and repetition, and we don’t get out of them for free.

The yoga thing is about action and observation, and finding that these two are not separate. Action can be luminously conscious. Takes practice.

So, how about applying that “99 percent practice, 1 percent theory” concept to food?

(Photo credit: “Ginger” via london_lime’s Flickr photostream.) 

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to YogaRose.net with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

 

Shhh. I’d like to practice, please. (Or, why Bikram yoga isn’t for me.)

It’s a holy time — Easter and Passover. Because I don’t celebrate either (I was raised as a Buddhist), it’s been a very quiet day for me. No family get-togethers, no religious or social gatherings. The loudest thing I heard outdoors today has been the high winds that sent my apartment complex’s display flags toppling over. It’s been relatively quiet indoors too. I had the chance to do my practice in an empty studio just before a private yoga lesson with a student. And it was so lovely to practice while hearing just the sound of my breath and the click-click-click of the wall clock.

So, I suppose this is as good a day as any to talk about the sounds of practice, which I’ve found myself thinking about quite a bit since I started teaching yoga. What are useful sounds that support the practice? What are distracting sounds that take away from the practice?

I’ve written before about why I don’t use music in the classes I teach. The more time I get in Mysore rooms — especially energetically intense ones like the Mysore classes at the Ashtanga Yoga Confluence — the less I enjoy it when there’s a lot of noise in yoga classes that I take. That includes music and talking — especially instructors who seem to be uncomfortable with silence, and work tirelessly to fill in emptiness with chatter.

I took my first Bikram yoga class last month, when I was in St. Louis for a Radiohead show. I thought I would leave that class thinking a lot about the heat (Bikram classes are heated to 105 degrees and the humidity is kept at 40 percent). The contrast of externally blasting the heat compared with the Ashtanga method, which believes in practitioners creating their own heat through breath and energy locks, could not have starker.

The more jarring thing about the class, for me, was the sound. It was incessant. I don’t think I had 10 seconds of uninterrupted focus, because the instructor, who wore a headset, talked the whole time. I remember lots of miked encouragement to “push, and push, and push” and “lock the knee.” (Never been to Bikram class? You can get the picture by reading through the official Bikram “yoga dialogue.”)

This is not a criticism of the instructor. And I know some ashtangis who also love Bikram yoga, and swear by the Bikram method’s benefits. I’m not trying to take anything away from it — this post reflects my opinion of Bikram, and more power to you if the method has given you what you sought or outright changed your life — but wow, this was not the yoga for me, if for the level of chatter alone.

The journalist in me is compelled to bring some balance into this post and note that it may not be that simple. This blog post of a first-time Bikram student settles on the idea that you’re not supposed to listen to what’s being said:

After the class, I found myself chatting with the receptionist about my first class.

“I like that my skin feels so clean.” It really did—I felt like I had perspired until there was nothing but pure water left in my pores. “But are there any instructors here who don’t….talk so much?”

“The continuous dialogue?” he said. “That’s one of the pillars of Bikram yoga.”

“Like heat.”

“Heat and continuous dialogue and the patented series of 26 postures.”

“It kind of gets to me.”

“That’s the challenge, to see if you can tune it out. That’s why it’s a signature of the style.”

Surprisingly, you never hear about this.  (“Oh, you do Bikram?  The yoga with continuous verbal dialogue, right?”) But to me it was Bikram’s salient feature: that everything they said was allegedly for you not to hear. And more importantly: that I couldn’t stop listening.

It was humbling.  I went in feeling like a yoga champ and left realizing what a novice I was in that most basic respect: mental control. Trying a new yoga style was like traveling to a foreign country—coming face to face with a new way of thinking and living. In the end it wasn’t about sweat, heat, or Bikram and waiting for his continuous dialogue to end—it was simply (and not simply) a matter of finding ways to quiet my own.

The blogger in me gets to say yeah, whatever. It sounds awfully convenient to me to copyright a dialog — the whole McYoga argument so often leveled against the Bikram style — and have it both ways by saying you’re supposed to tune it out. When you have pages and pages of scripted text that instructors are required to use, how can there be room for observation and insight?

This is from a blog post called “The Poverty of Verbal Instruction” by Angela Jamison of Ashtanga Yoga: Ann Arbor, my Ashtanga teacher:

I wonder how we’re really using words in yoga class. Do we know how to use language to set ourselves free in our bodies… or do we more often use it to solidify difficulties and obstacles? Do words come up due to anxiety about impermanence or attempts to pin things down, a need to prove something, or maybe unwillingness to just be quiet and do the technique? I wonder, too, if talking in practice—including my own verbal instruction—increases an egoic sense that we know what it’s is all about.

. . .

My teachers have taught me to give little or no response to students’ self-limiting stories, to teach with one’s own personality glazed over to support students’ depth of internal focus, and to do everything possible to prevent chit-chat in the room. My teaching mentors see discursive talk in a practice room as mostly useless. So gradually, and without using words, they showed me how to teach from a very quiet place.

I do offer new students verbal instruction. If someone is reaching out for an anchor or feedback, I’ll even give a little eye contact. And there might be some talk to smooth the transition into the odd culture of a Mysore room. Proprioception and concentration are still developing, after all. But pretty soon in this scenario, we come into contact with the ways that chit-chat and personality-to-personality interactions weaken and clutter the practice. I become more still in order to get out of your way, to let you refine your own beautiful habits of mind-body. It is so nice to be in the room as you realize that you’re ok with whatever arises, as you open to new sensations, as you settle in to just being there, creating and experiencing experience.

As a journalist by training, I fundamentally believe in the power of words. Absolutely. But sometimes we work against ourselves. My journalism professors at Columbia University taught me the power behind the idea that in journalistic writing, less is more.

I’d say the same is true for a yoga room.

>>Related topic, sort of: For what it’s worth, I enjoyed “Solitude in practice; or why Ashtanga is the best style of yoga,” a blog post that briefly touches on the idea of solitude and quiet.

(Photo credit: Stille-Silence_2 via respontour’s Flickr photostream)

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to YogaRose.net with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.