Written by Nicole Doherty
It’s common knowledge that becoming a great athlete takes a lot of work. It takes time, dedication, practice and commitment. One of the first orders of business for a professional athlete is conditioning—cleaning up the body and priming it for optimal performance – and the same is true about the practice of Yoga.
Our physical form, which is our body, is very much like a machine. Much like a car, we need to clean the outside, vacuum the inside and perform regular maintenance, like changing the oil, on schedule. We need to do the same with our bodies; we need to maintain our personal vehicle.
Most athletes are great at what they do because they have detoxified their system and have become attuned to their bodies and its needs. To continue using the car analogy: Detoxified your system and becoming attuned to your body makes it function at peak performance. This helps it operate well at high speeds, keeps it from breaking down over long distances, and helps keep the wheels on. Simply put, successful athletes learn how to maintain their bodies.
Most people come to Yoga with bodies like beat up Chevys. And that’s OK because at least they are beginning the healing process. Think of Yoga teachers as mechanics who are prepared to make repairs using the right tools. In Yoga, we start to work the outer layers to move toward the inner layers using techniques to create body awareness. We peel away past injuries and the negative compensations that have developed over time as a result these injuries. We also peel away tension and stress. More importantly, we use the practice to prevent new injuries, open the body, and detoxify the system.
In Yoga, the outer layers of the practice address the functional anatomy—aligning the body, working isometrically, isolating muscles, strengthening, stabilizing and elongating them.
Part of the practice of releasing impurities is achieved utilizing postures like “seated forward folds” and “twists”, which help to stimulate and wring out the intestines, where most of our garbage resides. But even more important than these particular poses is the use of the breath. When we consciously breathe we generate heat in our system that burns off the pollutants found in our gut. There are many different breathing techniques that are part of the cleansing process, a common one found in classes today is called “Breath of Fire”.
Once we begin the purification process, we notice that it begins to take hold in other aspects of our being. Ever notice the way you feel after you’ve cleaned your car? I have a Mini Cooper and when that little cutie is clean and sparkly, well, I just want to put the top down, blast the radio and drive all over LA!
My point is this: When we freshen up, we start to feel better. Our energy is cleaner. We present ourselves differently. Our mind is serene when there is less clutter on the floor and the seats. Detoxifying the body soothes the internal chatter of the mind. The whole goal of Yoga is to still the fluctuations of the “mind stuff” or “citta” as the term is known in Sanskrit.
I began practicing yoga over ten years ago, and I really didn’t understand these concepts very well. Maybe I just chose to ignore what I needed to change about myself. I loved the way Yoga made me feel every time I walked into a class, but my lifestyle outside class was not supporting the practice. I worked really hard and partied even harder. I was stressed out. I never watched what I ate. I slept a little—mainly watched the clock. I drank caffeine to stay awake during the day and would take sleeping pills at night. Even worse, I actually thought this was pretty normal because it was behavior I learned was shared by friends and coworkers. I simply didn’t think change was needed.
Now that I have learned about the mind-body connection and how energy works, it seems so crazy that I couldn’t figure out why I still didn’t feel great. But I should have known. Gold Medalists don’t win those medals training every now and again while binging on cupcakes, donuts, caffeine and sleep aids. They talk the talk and they walk the walk.
When I started practicing yoga regularly, 3 – 5 times per week, I really started to become aware of shifts in how I was feeling. Once I began to purify my body, my mind followed.
Every time I showed up on my mat, I was confronted with the thoughts that were feeding my addictions and patterns of behavior off the mat. I learned that going inward into the highly individual practice of Yoga became a journey of realization, discovery, acceptance and awareness. Every time I released the tension and toxins of my body, a little more of my mind’s negativity went with them. I began to experience peace, joy and happiness. These came in bits and pieces at first but then became regular occurrences.
In Yoga, as with all athletic practices, dedication and consistency is encourages. This is defined as “abyasa” in Sanskrit. Following this course, we can unravel the complications of the body and mini traumas (or big ones) that have occurred on our life path. We can use a practice of breath and movement to release resistance and move toward more spaciousness in our minds. With more space, we can develop a keener awareness and sharper focus. When we are ready, we can dive even deeper to discover more through yogic practices like meditation.
That’s certainly what I did. My life has changed as a result of my own Yoga practice and Yoga has spilled into every crevice of my existence. I no longer succumb to any of the aforementioned behaviors. Interestingly enough, I’m now a sober, vegan Yoga teacher who also leads seasonal food cleanses. This certainly was not my intention 10 years ago when I walked into the Yoga studio. But my life has become amazing.
If you are resisting detoxification through a Yoga practice (or any training), it’s probably your Ego telling you to not change. But like any good coach, my suggestion is to just keep showing up to practice. Put in the time. With consistency and dedication, you can make a real shift in your life. As Patabhi Jois, one of the founders of Western Yoga has famously said: “All is coming. Yoga is 99% practice and 1% theory”. Yes, it’s really all about experiencing it first hand.
Carve out some time, dedicate yourself to a practice and commit to real change.
Guest writer/blogger Nicole Doherty is a certified yoga instructor and wellness coach.
For more information: http://wellness.nicolepresents.com/bio/
Nicole also wrote a feature article on Ayahuasca for Glad.is called “Strange Brew.”