Oddly enough today, I drew the “niyamas” card from my A Yogic Path deck by Sahara Rose* I didn’t intend to post about niyamas today, but I take the card as a sign!
This post is part of a series exploring how the eight limbs of yoga manifest in a yoga practice. See Part I here.
Limb 2: Niyama (observances)
In an asana practice, a yogi strives for purity in mind and body. This relates to cleanliness, both physically and being of a “clean” mind. Simplicity is also valued. In a world where the yoga industry generates millions of dollars a year, a yogi can buy the “latest and greatest” in terms of gear and clothing. A yogi resists overabundance. The asana practice also benefits when a yogi studies the sacred texts and recognizes the supreme being that has power over the world and its inhabitants. The yoga mat is a place for introspection and reflection, and that also plays a role in a yogi’s life off the mat.
* I am loving this deck. It’s the first deck I’ve ever bought. The cards are definitely choosing me!
For years, my morning ritual involved nothing more than making coffee and jumping right into my day. This was when I had an 8-to-5 telecommuting job. I preferred to start the work day early and take a longer break mid-day, so I often was logged onto my computer around 6:30 a.m. I guess it worked because I didn’t know any better.
After I left that job for a faculty job in higher education, I had a more flexible work schedule. I still enjoyed getting up early and making coffee, but instead of working I’d write. That felt like a better morning ritual. I enjoyed creating in the stillness of a quiet house.
I’ve learned a lot about morning practice and its importance over the past year. For me, a morning practice has set a tone for each day and has made the busy and chaotic days so much easier to handle.
If you’re thinking of starting a morning practice, I have some ideas for you — some of these things I do. Others I don’t incorporate but they make sense for the morning. If you already have a morning practice, perhaps you can share ideas of what works for you. I have about 10 ideas, but I will blog just one at a time.
To start, I thought I’d begin with the very first thing I do in the morning: I wash away the night.
I don’t know about you, but generally my first stop upon waking is the bathroom. While you’re there, spend some time at the sink clearing away the grit and toxins that have accumulated while you’ve slept. This can be quick, or take as long as you’d like. Some things you can do:
scrape your tongue
brush your teeth
wash your face
blow your nose
take a shower
Do one or more of these things before you do anything else. I’m often thirsty upon waking, but I don’t drink any water until after I’ve scraped my tongue and brushed my teeth. I don’t want to ingest that gross stuff on my tongue!
I’ve been consistent in this morning routine since the first of the year, five full months now (I wait until later in the day to shower, but I do everything else listed–it takes only a couple of minutes). For the first time in a long time, I didn’t get sick all winter — no cold, no flu, no sniffles or sore throat. Coincidence?
What’s the very first thing you do in the morning?
As I continue my journey to a more healthful lifestyle and one that’s more aligned with my increased attention to Ashtanga and embracing of Ayurvedic principles, I just finished a challenge I set for myself.
I gave up alcohol for the six-plus weeks of Lent.
I won’t go into great detail, but for the last three years for various reasons I allowed my alcohol consumption to increase. As I added Ashtanga back into my life, I was feeling more and more that frequent drinking was not aligning with my practice. Yet, I had a hard time cutting back, which was slightly concerning.
On Ash Wednesday I was out with some friends and blew off church. I drank more wine in one sitting than I normally do. I felt terrible by the time I got home, both for neglecting church and being so careless with the wine. The next morning, with my head fuzzy, a yoga practice was out of the question. So I sat in quiet meditation and a message was delivered so clearly to me that it was practically screaming in my ear: Give up alcohol for Lent. This decision felt right in my heart. I spent zero time questioning it; I just did it.
From that moment I felt confident I could do this. It was beyond myself. I thought about the ultimate sacrifice of Jesus, so in comparison it felt silly to not be able to give up alcohol.
I was surprised at how easy it was for me. It really never felt like a sacrifice, which makes me think next year for Lent I should give up something I really would miss, like coffee or sugar. But I learned so much about myself in this process.
I used to look forward to a drink as a way to relax. I was getting to the point where I thought having a drink was the ONLY way to relax. But I found myself looking forward to Friday or Saturday nights out with friends, knowing that being with friends would be enjoyable and relaxing without the alcohol.
When going out, before I’d be focusing on what to drink, with food being a secondary thought. But during Lent I looked forward to going out for the food, and I truly enjoyed what I was eating, rather than viewing it as something that would soak up the alcohol.
I LOVE club soda with a splash of cranberry juice! That’s been my go-to drink at bars. Very little sugar but delicious! I actually converted a couple of friends to this concoction. I also discovered diet ginger ale — yum!
Noteworthy events don’t need to be celebrated with a drink. I looked ahead to different events going on during Lent — St. Patrick’s Day, a good friend’s birthday, my husband’s birthday, social time with friends I don’t see often, etc. — and wondered if I would struggle not drinking during those occasions. But again, I didn’t miss it.
Going out without drinking is much more affordable! I paid myself about $20 each week, which is roughly what I would spend on having a drink or two going out a couple of nights a week. In the end I had about $140.
I thought I would sleep better without alcohol, but the opposite is true. I don’t know what’s going on but I’ve had some insomnia in the past six weeks. However, I feel so much better in the evening without a happy hour drink or two. And needless to say, I can get up every morning knowing that I will be able to do a yoga practice without a fuzzy head.
I do look forward to having cocktails again, but now I have more confidence in cutting back. For years I’d have a couple of drinks on the weekends and that was it. I’d like to return to that. I also want to see alcohol as a treat, not just as something to pour down my gullet to get a buzz. I want to appreciate my drinks and choose quality over quantity. I love a good mixed cocktail, like an old-fashioned or a Manhattan, and I’d like to be purposeful in seeking out the best of the best. I’ll be in Duluth in one month and I cannot wait to go to Vikre distillery! Talk about attention to detail and making a drink from quality ingredients.
On a side note: the elimination of alcohol helped me shed some stubborn pounds and inches. I always knew that I could get back to my previous level of fitness if I cut out alcohol but never had the will to actually do it in the last three years. So this experiment proved my hypothesis!
If you are a yogi, what is your stance on alcohol?
Do this much exercise each day, and these types of exercises.
Drink 8 glasses of water a day. No, 12. No, make that 16, or 24. Do it, and don’t fail or else!
This time of year we’re given a lot of rules, especially if our goal is to eat better or get more exercise or just try to embrace a healthier lifestyle.
I think rules work for some people. They want a clear set of guidelines and succeed when they can check off boxes. But others chafe when given a set of rules. That would be me.
If someone says I can’t do something, or can’t eat a certain type of food, or need to give up caffeine, I instantly want to do the exact opposite.
So my goal is to find a plan and adapt it to my lifestyle and schedule at the moment.
Ashtanga is a good example. The “rules” of Ashtanga say that you do the series for 90 minutes a day first thing in the morning, six days a week. That just doesn’t work for me right now. So instead, I aim for the six days, but my practice is anywhere from 15 minutes to 45 minutes. I trust that my body and mind will adapt to where I will be devoting more time to my practice.
I’m also experimenting with Ayurveda, both in terms of food and also lifestyle. Today I went to a workshop with Julianne Englander at Yoga Barre in Shakopee and learned some great details about Ayurveda. Julianne talked about the morning routine, which if you did everything would probably take about an hour. I know that’s not anything I’m going to do right now. I’m going to start small, like getting up and scraping my tongue and washing my face — getting “clean” before heading to my mat. Julianne also said this is like a yoga practice — it develops over years.
Regarding my diet, there are just some things I’m not ready to give up yet. These include:
An occasional social alcoholic drink with friends
If you want to succeed in a diet or exercise routine or other lifestyle change, you have to make it work for YOU. Find something that sounds doable and that you’ll enjoy, but ADAPT from there. Remember, a small change is better than nothing. See how that small change goes and if you feel good, add more changes. Because the second you dislike something you for sure will stop doing it.
How have you adapted a diet or exercise program or lifestyle change to make it work for YOU?
“Take a look at each deck. Choose from the one that speaks to you,” Melanie says.
I kneel down, inspect a few cards, finding myself drawn to the ones that are colorful. A couple of the decks feature whimsical illustrations, which are cute, but for me maybe a little too cute. I spot the deck from which I drew last year, but want something different. When I see “Goddess Guidance,” I know that’s the deck for me.
I shuffle once, twice. I almost pick the top card right then, but something inside said to shuffle one more time — something about the number three felt important. I shuffle again, then I take the top card:
My heart sings. This card, this notion of blossoming, feels exactly right.
We might think of people blossoming in terms of adolescence. How often are girls said to “blossom” into womanhood? But just because we hit middle age, or even older, that doesn’t mean we don’t keep blossoming into new things.
For 2019, my plan is to delve deeper into Ashtanga. I want to continue to build a home practice that I’ve been doing for the last couple of months. I want to attend more workshops and trainings. I’m excited to be teaching Ashtanga at SunMoon Yoga Studios starting in a couple of weeks.
I also have learned more about Ayurveda in the last three weeks or so. I’ve been trying out recipes and am loving the plant-based diet. I want to learn even more about this practice.
As always, I’ll be reading and writing, learning new things that way, both about other people and events and also about myself.
This seems like a good year to focus on “blossoming.” I’ve made an effort to put negativity behind me in the last year, and by doing so I feel ready to grow.
I’m only a few days into eating a primarily plant-based diet, but I’m already feeling better and seeing results.
I generally have eaten pretty healthy in the past few years. I like fruits and vegetables and make it a point to eat those every day. I like to eat well because I like to be active, and I can’t fuel my body on garbage. But my main challenges have been:
Simply eating too much, especially now that I’m not logging lots of miles like I was prior to the marathon in October.
Still lacking willpower to walk away from the sweet treats — totally my weakness! I would never eat chips or fries again in my life if it meant I could still eat cookies.
Drinking too much alcohol.
These have been my challenges for about three years. In 2014, I wasn’t happy with my eating habits or my body and made some major changes. I was able to keep this up mostly through 2016. But since then, I’ve struggled.
I’ve made half-hearted attempts to rediscover that good place I was in a few years ago. But nothing ever stuck and I’d quickly be back to my old habits (or more accurately, not even wanting to change).
But a couple of weeks ago, something happened. It was definitely an internal/mind change. I kind of just lost my taste for junk. I craved freshness. That’s what I wanted to put into my body. Whereas I hadn’t cut back on alcohol because I simply liked it, in the past couple of weeks the thought of drinking kind of turned my stomach.
I credit the change to a few things:
Making yoga and meditation a daily routine. I wake up and immediately begin my practice. Sometimes it’s only 15 minutes, sometimes it’s an hour. I’ve been sustaining this for about a month.
Disliking how my body feels when I’m not kind toward it. A morning practice is difficult and challenging when if the night before I drank and ate garbage. I got tired of feeling that way.
Letting go of psychic baggage.
Just in the past few days, I’ve noticed that I’m sleeping better and have lost weight. And the new diet is highly satisfying and filling! This is a HUGE change for me. As a pitta, I’m often ravenous and counting the hours until the next meal. I have never missed and meal and have never forgotten to eat! But something like the six-taste bowl pictured above sustains me for hours. This has been the biggest surprise of this new routine.
This is not a diet or a miracle fix. This is a way of life. I have never participated in any fad diet, because I know the key is being able to sustain the way you eat. I don’t anticipate a problem incorporating more vegetables and less meat and dairy into my diet.
At this moment, I’m not saying that I won’t ever eat meat or dairy or sugar again, or that I’ll never have another sip of alcohol. I resist strict rules. Even if the rules are good for me, my instinct is to break them just because they’re rules! I’m also a slow learner and like to dip my toe in the water before going all in. For example, I did several 5Ks and 10Ks before doing a marathon. I did sprint triathlons before moving on to Olympic-distance triathlons. Unlike someone I know, who signed up for a full Ironman triathlon without knowing how to swim!
So I’m considering this a primarily plant-based diet, with some exceptions. I think the key to making something work for you is to tailor it to your needs and lifestyle. Make it individual for you. What works for someone else may not work for you.