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Transformation, Spring, and Cleansing

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I started this entry in March, a rare month when we had two new moons. That was its original title–two new moons in March or the rabbit in one moon, the woman in the other.

This evening, looking back at the whirlwind of spring, I’m noticing that I like to write about emptiness/zero/nothingness. That may be because life can seem so incredibly stuffed full of itself sometimes, so that clearing space for practice/meditation/pranayama or cooking good food for oneself and loved ones to eat can take a backseat. That said, I’m going to go ahead and post most of this as is. Happy Summer Solstice to all!


Daily ablutions, that’s what Swamini Maya Ma called the morning cleansing practices during my studies with her many years ago. Whether it includes simple acts like splashing the face and eyes (the most pitta of the sense organs) with cold water, scraping the tongue, or complicated acts like swallowing cloth or drinking a gallon of warm salty water, the ablutions prepare us for the new day with a pure body/mind.


I have heard it said many times that a focused mind is one of the most powerful things in the universe, but how on earth can it focus with a million sticky, pesky, dusty distractions?? This is the million dollar question, and one that yoga practice can help us answer. Unless and until, as the Iyengars like to say, the sadhaka is firmly established in her/his practice, the possibility of deep focus, deep cleansing is not possible. This, of course, involves not only the physical body, but physiological, emotional and mental bodies as well. When residues of past unresolved anger, resentment, jealousy, guilt, shame, or fears of any kind or origin still linger in the practitioner, the morning ablutions and pranayama/meditation practice can only be partially effective, and asana practice can sometimes feel like “going through the motions” rather than a meaningful, focused, cleansing time.


The restraint of citta vrittis, or mental fluctuations which Patanjali discusses at such great length in the Yoga Sutra, comes about for many of us, often only with years of dedicated practice. As a teacher, my dilemma has been how to guide seekers to understand the transformation that can come with practice more directly. May my errors and long-cuts be to your benefit!


For me, the key element in true transformation, which I define as an ability to allow the daily practice of cleanliness and contentment to lead me to an absolutely unshakeable underlying joy in and gratitude for life itself (which, incidentally, Iyengar’s translation of Patanjali’s Chapter II.42 speaks of) has been the practice of absolutely doing nothing. Yes, nothing! Or maybe once in awhile, simply watching the grass growing or the clouds float in the sky. In that clearing out process, seeing what thoughts and emotions arise when my intention is to stay with the breath, be it ujjayi, viloma, brahmari or some other technique, I began to understand what recurring memories, feelings and judgments still blocked or “infected” my psyche. These interruptions to the stages of pranayama, pratyhara, dharana, dhyana and samadhi, were the signposts to what I needed to “clean out.” Being a dedicated student, of literature, of biology, of law, of yoga, of meditation for decades, I had to read a LOT and DO a lot before I fully understood the power of zero.


It seemed, at times, as if the job were too much for me, what needed to be cleared away was too heavy, the sadness, the anger or the guilt too deep-seated and pernicious to shake off. At times, counseling was temporarily helpful, or talking heart-to-heart with friends, or writing in a journal, yet still the weight of the past and fears about the future sometimes stopped me cold on the spiritual journey. Though I had joy and faith in my practice, something was missing. Many of my teachers did not speak much about bliss or transformation or contentment or even happiness, but I am thankful for those who did, and intend to follow their good light, which showed me the way. Being a reader, a thinker and a stubbornly independent person, I would reach for any and every book on yoga and meditation that I “thought” might help me out of my dilemma. Why was the practice of yoga not bearing the simple fruit of joie de vivre?


The year 2001 was a pivotal one; my mother died, then 9/11 happened, then my daughter decided to move to, of all places, New York City. I remember a student coming to one of my yoga classes that fall and saying “it’s all good” and inwardly not being able to agree with her in any way, shape, or form. In 2003, I began to travel regularly to Mexico to help the yogis of Monterrey learn more about the Iyengar Method. In 2008, with Guruji’s blessing, the community in Mexico had grown large enough to warrant the formation of a national Iyengar association. To have been part of forming the US Iyengar association and the Mexican association was a huge honor for me. The process of Iyengar teacher training continues to have my support, both here in the US and in Mexico.


In 2012, after a decade-long study and writing period, my book “Physical Poetry” was published in Austin. Soon it will be available in Spanish! Slowly we are working out how to reach the Austin community with the powerful wisdom of Ayurveda, which provided for me the final piece of the puzzle. Geeta Iyengar was my original inspiration for studying ayurveda; Dr. Vasant Lad had lectured here in Austin in the 80’s, and my hope at that time was that he would locate his healing center here, but it was not to be. These years of change and study and work gave me a sense of fulfillment and have clearly been part of what forms my view of yoga and ayurveda practice today.


In Ayurveda, spring and fall are traditional cleansing times, partly because they are volatile times of change when the governing air/ether element in our constitutions can easily go out of balance. It turns out that fasting or eating a simple mono-diet can be a key to transformation, as much as sitting regularly for pranayama and meditation. When the mind is not busy working out what to eat three or more times a day, a huge space opens up. Understanding transformation, in my experience, involves learning not to fill that space as it appears, but rather to abide with it and appreciate it for the potential it has to be part of the connection with ananda– bliss, and santosha–contentment. Patanjali was not describing a temporary state when he wrote about transformation and enlightenment. He was describing the very foundation of the yogi’s life, once practice is established.


If you have guessed that though I began this long blog in March amazed at having two new moons in one month, and am finally finishing the entry having finally finished MY spring cleanse, you would be right. The cleanse was late this year, just before the summer solstice, but accomplished at last–amazingly transformative and conducive to self-reflection and awakenings as usual.


This open emptiness also has the potential to lead us to our own inner teacher. There is much to be learned from the good-hearted being who hides within, sometimes underneath a lot of dusty, pesky, and sticky distractions. One of my favorite stories about the Dalai Lama is how puzzled he was when American Buddhist psychologists queried him about the rash of depression in our country. “But we all have Buddha nature!” he replied. Iyengar, of course, has been clear as well about the potential of yoga practice finally to lead us to stand more certainly and confidently on our own two feet. He certainly has! His “divine dissatisfaction” gave him the fire to perfect his asana practice. His standards are high, and we, his students, have a high bar to aim for, and what better inspiration to keep us on the yoga mat than his living example of the nonagenarian with a daily asana practice!



The inner teacher may end up giving us messages that friends or family members have been hinting at for some time. “You’ve been working too hard,” “you are not paying enough attention to me,” or “you are not taking good care of your self” are only a few of such messages. Just because there is agreement here from within and without does not mean that we have to resent those who have perhaps been harping at us. Gratitude instead might be appropriate!


Join me if you like in the adventure of pancha karma this fall. I have all the information needed for you to begin a three, five, or seven day cleanse. If you are new to the process, shorter times are recommended. If you have been involved with cleansing before, of a different type (raw juices, for example), you may be intrigued and comforted by the monodiet of cooked rice and legumes that forms the traditional ayurvedic cleanse. In addition, in November, I will join Sharon Conroy at St. Joseph’s Abbey in beautiful Covington, Louisiana, for a weekend of yoga and ayurveda, a perfect place to try cleansing for the first (or second or hundredth) time. Details forthcoming. A new moon will visit us in a few days; my intention is to write more regularly, at least at the time of the waxing crescent moon once a month. I love to hear from readers, too, so please don’t be shy to comment! Meanwhile, enjoy your summer and stay cool.


Written by algarita

June 22, 2014 at 11:05 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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