This month, the Gentle Yogis community-time conversation made a transition. In The Yamas and Niyamas, Debra Adele describes the shift from the Yamas to the Niyamas as being similar to a shift from creating an adult relationship with others to creating an adult relationship with ourselves. We began this past month to explore the Niyamas.
The Niyamas are considered guidance for how to approach personal practice. There are two ways to approach the sequence of the five Niyamas. There is a genius to the sequence as listed in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra; we studied Saucha/Purification in November and will proceed with Santosha/Contentment in December. Deep wisdom is also found in Amy Weintraub’s perspective (Yoga for Depression). She notes that the last three Niyamas (Tapas, Swadhyaya, Ishvara-Pranidhana) could be considered the tripod of support for yoga practice. Commit to the last three and the first two (Saucha, Santosha) will emerge. Number three, Tapas, means to make a choice to practice regularly, committing to the discipline of consistent practice. Number four, Swadhyaya, self-study, encourages us to pay attention to the effects of the practice and to what the practice reveals, in order to deepen self-knowledge. Number five, Ishvara-Pranidhana, is about surrender to God or surrendering to life as it happens and surrendering to the effects and revelations of practice by letting go of expectations.
Lighten Your Load
The purification practices of yoga are intended to open the channels for the energy to flow freely. There are many purification practices, some for the body, some for the mind. Let the intention be to lighten the load you may be carrying. The idea is to remove blockages and support the body’s natural functions to clean out and regenerate its own tissues.
Cleansing the Body
Some yogic and Ayurvedic practices exist to physically cleanse the body. The most commonly practiced basics include beginning the day with (a) tongue scraping, (b) brushing the teeth, (c) nasal cleansing with salt water from a neti pot and (d) nourishing nasal tissue with nasya oil. Additional options include (e) cleansing the eyes with rose water, (f) dry skin brushing, (g) abhyanga/spreading sesame oil over the entire body followed by a hot shower or bath, (h) drinking warm/hot water with or without lemon first thing in the day, to cleanse the stomach lining, strengthen digestive fire, and prevent the buildup of toxins.
We discussed the importance of sipping water regularly rather than drinking a lot of water just a few times a day. Large gulps of water may simply run through the kidneys and bladder, like running water over an old dried out sponge. In contrast, one approach that supports this practice is to set a timer for 15 or 20 minutes and take a few sips when the timer goes off. Do this for a few hours and notice the effect. A little bit of self-massage of the big muscles can help the water absorb. Hydration of the body tissues can be improved with massage, which can be done either by hiring a professional or by learning some self-massage, and also, especially helpful, is learning the MELT Method.
A good night’s sleep is essential to overall health. During deep sleep, the body digests and integrates both the day’s physical nutrients and its psychological experiences. Establishing a bedtime routine is helpful. Notice what helps you wind down and allow time for these activities.
The Ayurvedic suggestion is to get to bed before 10pm. Some of us may notice that around 10pm we get a “second wind,” which makes it tempting to stay up later. However, 10pm is when pitta time begins; this is prime time for digestion. It’s a time in the physical body designed for that energy to go into digestion and rejuvenation. If we stay up beyond 10pm, it may be harder to fall asleep.
Some options for bedtime routines to settle the energy include a hot shower or bath, chamomile tea, and rubbing the feet with sesame oil (then, put on an old pair of socks that you don’t mind ruining). The MELT Method’s foot treatment aids in reducing arthritic pain and cramping during sleep. Darkness prompts the production of melatonin, while light causes that production to stop. Create your bedroom space to be dark, quiet, and still.
How to Eat
Chewing well is foundational. Choosing nutritious, fresh, non-processed food will nourish health and new tissue growth. Explore ways to make time to cook your own food. Make batches of the foods you want to eat so you have a supply on hand and can quickly heat up your meals.
Holly Niles, an Integrative Nutritionist and Gentle Yoga Teacher, shared with our community, after one of the classes that she taught this past month, that “there isn’t a one-size-fits-all when it comes to what you eat. It can be a process of trial and error to discern what the body needs and what it can digest.” Holly continued, “Sometimes the body has needs for more than nourishing food. It may need to recover from injury, illness or exhaustion and that idea of purifying may differ from time to time. Tuning in, being sensitive, giving yourself permission is kind of an art, using discernment, a practice of living in your body, tuning into your body, rather than all the external messages. Asking how does my body feel when I make this choice vs. that choice? The body’s very wise. My experience has been that if you tune into that, usually you get an aligned perspective” (Niles, Nov. 5, 2021).
At another time, a community member contributed that when Rudy used the word permission in relation to eating, that this was helpful to her because it is something she has been working on since she feels she is “a stress eater.” She added, “When I get stressed, I just turn to food. My biggest time of stress is usually in the evening when it’s quiet. I try to give myself permission to have some of it. Sometimes all I need is just to take that taste & say, ‘OK, that’s good.’ It doesn’t mean that I’m going to do that every night, but sometimes telling myself, ‘OK, I needed to have that, & it’s OK’ is better than repressing the craving.”
Another community member shared that she plans her special treats. “Instead of struggling and resisting an evening snack” she told us, “I schedule it like having a date with myself at my kitchen cafe, which closes at a certain time and doesn’t serve after that. I have fun with my evening snack because I might as well. I’m going to do it anyway!”
How to Purify the Mind
How do I change a negative, critical, distractible or disturbed mind?
Let’s try noticing where we see purity around us? Let us do an open-eyed meditation on purity. In our recent conversations we’ve considered, “Where do we see purity in our lives?”
A class member remembered the purity of legendary Kripalu resident, Dashrath, Endel Madick, whose impassioned intention brought many to appreciate the value of using a neti pot to breathe clearly and the value of daily walking and hiking. These practices were purifying, and his intention was pure and loving.
“This daily Breath Practice has helped me through a lot of hurdles. When it comes to facing those hurdles now, I have a lot of techniques to deal with thoughts & sadness & concerns about the future. I use those techniques to help me deal with those things now. Where in the past I might have just frittered away time thinking about all the possibilities, now, I… breathe… relax into it… consider the options & make good choices,” shared one community member.
In the Zoom chat, another member wrote, “I started to create a visual photo album of what purity means for me. I want to share a little bit because these are pictures of sounds or sensations that I can pull out, & it switches on a sense of purity for me.”
- “The clear blue sky…
- Being in the Caribbean water…
- My granddaughter sleeping… just the quiet and purity of that.
- Good drinking water…
- When I look into my grandson’s eyes…
- Cutting open an orange… the smell of that.
- An avocado…
- My friend’s singing voice and when I hear that tone that she sings it clears away things. I focus on just that note.
- My cat purring… (haha – first said pureing)
- When my friend Annie hugs me… everything else just falls away…
- When I see a bird flying… I just see that it’s so pure… That bird can’t be thinking of anything… so pure
- Our practice… is in my inner album…
- When I take the clothes out of the dryer and smell them… everything else just disappears… I feel the warmth & smell the freshness…
- My granddaughter’s laughter… when I hear her laugh..
She concluded her sharing by saying, “These things that are so auditory and visual to me, when I pull them out, there’s nothing else that exists but me being in that experience. And that helps me to be free of all the other clutter and thoughts.”
Purified by the Company We Keep
One of our community members shared, “In Quakerism we have what we call a gathered meeting. There is the feeling of gathering & being gathered by each other’s presence, and by each other’s unspoken interest & commitment to focusing inward. We’re sitting in silence in worship, trying to go on a spiritual journey together. I just look at this sangha and the many things that you all have shared over this past period of time. It makes my life a lot more gathered, truly. It’s all of you… It’s our practice together… It’s what you’ve all shared… we benefit so much from the sharing.”
How do I move toward purity? Maybe I am already on that path! What purification practices am I already doing?
This Practice – Every Day
One of the most significant benefits of the Breath Practice is that it includes breathing practices that increase nitric oxide production.
What is Nitric Oxide?
The 1998 Nobel Prize in medicine and physiology was awarded for the discovery of nitric oxide (NO) as a signalling molecule in the cardiovascular system. Called the Master Molecule or Panacea Molecule, it is the body’s first line of defense. NO plays a major role in every chemical process in the body. Every part and organ of the body uses it. It is found everywhere in the body. It is antibacterial, antiviral, antifungal and antimicrobial. It cleans the blood and keeps the blood from getting sticky, preventing blood clots.
A vasodilator, nitric oxide (NO) relaxes the inner muscles of blood vessels causing them to widen, increasing blood flow, reducing blood pressure and easing the blood flow to the brain. NO clears plaque, repairs blood vessels, and heart tissue. It helps the hippocampus, improves memory, reduces brain fog and calms mental focus.
How is Nitric Oxide Produced?
Nitric oxide (NO) is produced in the sinuses. Nasal breathing drives NO to the lower lobes of the lungs then into the bloodstream to serve every cell in the body. As we age our ability to make NO decreases. At every age, mouth breathing instead of nasal breathing impairs immunity.
A simple practice to increase NO production is nasal breathing, alternate nostril breathing, increasing breath capacity and allowing for an effortless pause between endings and beginnings of inhales or exhales. During the practice of Nadi Shodhana, an alternate nostril pranayama, we sometimes pause. The gentle approach is to embrace the pause, normalize the pause, “float the breath” and avoid “holding” the breath out or in. Alternate nostril breathing leads to continuous release of NO. Another pranayama we do in our Breath Practice to expand our breath capacity over time is Active Inhale, Active Exhale, whereas, Nadi Shodhana reduces the amount of breathing required by the body which increases cellular respiration.
Other practices that increase NO production include tapping around the sinuses, humming (provides a 15% increase), and Brahmari “Humming Bee” pranayama.
In one of our group conversations, someone chimed in to comment on that specific day’s class, “Your last phrase, pure awareness, leads to my inquiry around Saucha. When you say pure awareness, that just sounds so elegantly simple, but I dance around trying to experience that. So, right now, my inquiry is just observing the conversation that’s constantly going on in my mind, and trying not to do anything with it, just noticing that it’s happening and considering that maybe it’s not the pure me, that it’s just the conversation in my mind.”
Yes, pure awareness can be a fleeting thing… maybe it will arrive for a few moments… Can I let the practice be about noticing the 24/7 media centre of the mind? And rather than being in the studio of the mind engaged with all the chatter, simply notice it… What are the qualities that go along with pure awareness? Is it steady? Is it surrendered? Can I let go and remain in pure awareness?
Recognizing Purity Within
According to the Ayurvedic system, Sattva, Rajas, and Tamas are the three Gunas, or the three qualities of nature. Mental and emotional nature are governed by specific qualities of energy. Sattva refers to the true and natural state of a balanced mind: even, steady, clear energy…moderate and in harmony. Rajas is high energy: dynamic, moving, active, light, stimulated, enthusiastic. It can become too energized and flighty, an imbalanced mind state. Tamas is lethargic, dull, heavy, dark, inert. Tamas can become apathetic, lazy, inattentive, oriented toward self-gratification, putting things off until momentum helps them get things done.
What Does Sattva Look Like in Everyday Life?
The journey to sattva seems to begin with awareness, with what’s real & true in the body. Simplicity. Slowing down. One step at a time. Then I can consider options and make choices.
In our conversation, someone explained, “What’s starting to imprint for me is slowing down and a gentle restraint. The other day, something happened & I noticed I was insulted & angry… but I really noticed it, which was so powerful, because I recognized it… named it & then I was able to make a choice. I just said, ‘I’m not that person any more. I’m old enough, I’m settled enough…’ The thing that was shining down is the knowledge that I was making a choice. I felt like I was wearing the choice that ‘this is who I am in the world.’ I’m not going to be pulled into something habitual. I attribute that to our five months of study, and I’m loving the switch, the kind of Yin/Yang.”
She continued, “And, I’m finding that conserving my words, conserving my thoughts, slowing down, & even smiling and noticing when there’s like this stage coach running through and then there’s another one running the other way. But, I have such an abundance of choices. What if I don’t make a choice, or what if I choose one & it’s not the perfect one? That’s OK too.”
English Mantras to Support Purification
Yes…Yes…Yes. (Saying yes, to life as it burgeons forth.)
This I welcome. And this, too, I welcome.
Letting go. Letting go. Once again, I’m letting go.