Wednesday, August 20, 2014

detox your mind first

Recently an acquaintance told me that she went to Thailand for an expensive 2-week detox.
"It was tough, she said, just imagine: no solid food, no alcohol, no coffee, just herbal tea and juices for two weeks. Colonics every day. I feel great"  She made it sound like a heroic feat.  And probably it was.
As i was going back home, i started thinking about her experience. It struck me as symptomatic of our society's schizophrenic relationship with food and our inability to exercise self-control.

Why would anyone fly all the way to Thailand to drink juices and herbal tea, something they can do at home? Why does anyone need to detox in the first place?

We live in a society where every experience is so compartimentalized, and packaged that instead of having a balanced, nutritious diet (not that hard in most places) , we look for a quick fix, a commodified experience that we buy in the hope of repairing the damage our unhealthy 'lifestyle' is doing to our bodies. 

We can't exercise self-control, so we pay someone to tell us what to do.
Why this desperate yearning for a drill sergeant to bark orders at us? Can't we just go for a long walk every day, or cycle to work, instead of joining a boot camp to lose weight?

People who eat good, wholesome, fresh food obviously don't need to 'detox'. Actually, they can even enjoy a glass of wine without feeling the need to punish themselves with a kill-joy detox once a  year.

I wanted to tell that lady about yoga and its message, but she was too busy extolling the virtues of her detox and in a terrible rush. So i revisited that message in my head, and analyzed my yoga experience in the light of the 'boot camp, detox, drill sergeant' approach to wellness she had conjured up.

My yoga practice is based on balance and self-discipline. Yoga extends to all spheres of my life, doesn't stop when i perform the last asana of my sequence or finish my pranayama exercises. I observe my breath, my posture, my emotions in everyday life.

Yoga teaches self-knowledge, self-restraint, mastery of the self, so that nobody should ever feel the need to be told what to do or not to do. You may be inspired by those who have attained a higher level of self-consciousness, but you seek their advice, do not submit like a slave.

Ultimately yoga teaches you to become your own guru.

When you are in touch with your body, mind and spirit, it comes natural and easy to choose what is good for you, to stay away from food that is too processed, too artificial, too hard to digest, to eat only when you are really hungry, and only enough to sustain your body.

Yoga teaches self liberation, not enslavement. The yogic mind is open and receptive, can engage and disengage with the world,  is sharp and analytical, the yogic heart is open and receptive, and so is the yogic body. Yoga is not a punishing regime, but a path you follow with an open mind, open heart and your unique, sentient and exultant body.

B.K.S. Iyengar has left his mortal body

Yesterday B.K.S. Iyengar left his mortal body. Though his passing saddens all those who met him, his eternal teachings and legacy remain. It is through these that our path will continue to be illuminated. Worldwide he has brought  health and peace of mind to millions of people.

His parting message was to "Live happily and die majestically". 
What did he mean by 'die majestically'?
To die as if death was just a stepping stone, to embrace death as the ultimate, most advanced yoga pose, the pose that yogis spend their lives preparing for. A good death is indeed majestic, as it enables the spirit to soar beyond the constraints of our material reality. Facing death without fear is the ultimate message of yoga. 

Iyengar's wisdom is the result of of an extraordinary life spent overcoming obstacles, experimenting, testing his intuitions, sharing his insights with students and followers, either in person or through his books.

Iyengar himself had originally turned to yoga to find a solution to the health problems from which he had suffered as a child, and he wanted ordinary people to benefit too. He was among the first to promote the therapeutic applications of yoga as a natural preventive and cure for serious medical conditions, helping to widen access to a discipline of mind and body which had previously been seen as exclusive if not incomprehensible. 

He was the first to introduce simple props such as ropes, belts, wooden blocks and bolsters to enable the elderly and less fit to maintain classical postures correctly and safely. The Iyengar form of yoga is even  employed by physiotherapists treating people with spinal injuries and back problems to recover full movement.
His daughter Geeta pioneered yoga for women, selecting and adapting classical poses to benefit women's bodies and conditions  such as menstruation, pregnancy, menopause.

Critics say the global expansion of yoga into western gyms and fitness centres has taken the practice too far from its spiritual origins. But Iyengar said it was unfair to blame yogis. "It all depends on what state of mind the practitioner is in when he is doing yoga," he said last year in an interview with Indian newspaper Mint. "For the aberration, don't blame yoga or the whole community of yogis."

He was right. The yogi's state of mind is the most important element, and if a yogi (a student or a teacher)  is driven by her ego, greed, superficiality, ignorance etc. the yoga she practices will reflect  that.