Everyone who comes into my Yoga Therapy practice desires freedom from suffering. The clients I work with want to be free from the effects of trauma, relationship challenges, depression, anxiety or chronic pain. These are just some of the ways suffering shows up in the body/mind/heart, yet the underlying desire for so many of us is the same: to be free.
There are many approaches to alleviate suffering, and Yoga Therapy is one of them. Yoga translates to union or yoking, when we unite our small self (the body/mind/heart) to our divine Self. We might have different words we use for that divinity: our true Self, the universe, God/Goddess, Buddha nature or Christ consciousness. When there is physical or emotional pain it can be difficult to access this quiet, still, divine place inside. This union, more than any pose or breathing technique, is the aim of Yoga.
Life’s challenges obscure this divinity from ourselves, and when we are stuck in habitual patterns these become the lens through which we see the world. For example, if a parent silenced me as a child I might be fearful speaking to others. If I grew up with not enough I might fear the feeling of hunger. These patterns develop in an attempt to keep us safe, yet they keep repeating even when outdated. In Yoga these patterns are called saṃskāras, habitual grooves we fall into and continue (consciously or unconsciously) for years.
Awareness of these saṃskāras can shift them, however they are deeply ingrained and difficult to shift with awareness alone. Our brains are wired to keep us alive and safe, and these grooves were created in an attempt at protection even if they simultaneously cause pain.
Sometimes working with the body can shift these saṃskāras through breathwork, movement and meditation. Yet many times it can feel impossible to shift these patterns, especially once they get lodged in our systems.
Pairing awareness, meditation, breathwork and movement with discipline can be a key ingredient to making these shifts.
Why discipline? Many saṃskāras, like panic attacks, addictions or feeling unheard, that cause suffering feel chaotic and out of control. Discipline can bring in the elements of steadiness and stability, which then can support the body-mind-heart to move towards even more groundedness and ease.
Āyurveda is the sister science of Yoga and that is the basis for the lifestyle recommendations I offer. There are many approaches to Āyurveda, and this particular approach is based on the book, The Heart of Wellness, by my teacher, Dr. Kavitha Chinnaiyan. I personally follow this lifestyle and have seen it support countless people’s physical and mental health.
Here are some key starting points to begin a discipline to support your healing:
- Sleep: Wake-up no later than 6am and go to sleep by 10pm everyday
- Eat 3 meals a day:
Light meal between 7-8am
Heavier lunch between 12-2pm
Light dinner between 5-6pm
No eating after 6pm
Cut out all snacking, sugar and processed foods.
- Meditate: twice/day for 15-20 minutes.
These 2 changes to sleep and eating can put you in tune with the natural rhythms of day and night and the internal rhythms of your body. You will also be creating stability from the inside out rather than trying to just eliminate symptoms without addressing the root causes. Meditation can help stabilize the mind, increase awareness, single-pointedness, inner silence while also inviting a broader perspective and the ability to let go.
What if I can’t do this? This is a question I, and many others, had when first starting this lifestyle. With unpredictable meal and sleep times, different work schedules and all that life brings it can seem impossible. Ultimately the body does not care about all the reasons why we can not do something. Imagine not sleeping for 3 days because you had to do something. Eventually the body will take over and fall asleep. When we ignore the body because of what we think is more important there will be consequences. Ultimately, the body always wins regardless of what we think about it, and life, as well as the body, will remain chaotic unless we cut the chaos out.
My suggestion is to give it a try for 3 months. If it is a failure you can always return to your previous habits! What I have seen in myself and many others are dramatic shifts. I have seen people experience energy when there was chronic depletion, reduced depression and anxiety and increased stamina. People have reported a decrease in physical pain and I have witnessed people able to process trauma with more ease. Others have shared they experience more contentment in their relationships and increased body awareness. Paradoxically, creating a discipline can bring more freedom.
Changing our practices and patterns takes time. Be gentle and kind with yourself while also being steadfast in your commitment to healing. It took a long time to create the saṃskāras that keep us stuck, and we need to be patient in creating new ones that can move us toward freedom.
As you consider whether this is something for you I encourage you to ask yourself: what do you want? This question can be a touchstone for continuing to stay committed to the discipline even when old patterns are rearing their heads. Spend some time journaling about what you want more than anything else in the world. From there create an intention that you can say every day and night to help support your commitment to yourself and your healing.
Recommended books and courses:
Heart of Wellness: The Practice: 12-week guided program starts June 25, 2022
Heart of Wellness Book: (included for all new clients who sign up for a package)
Bliss Meditation Course: (Free)