Swami Satchidananda spoke about habit-setting like changing a car's oil. To get the dirty oil out, you simply pour clean oil in and the old oil is purged from the engine. Our habits are like this too: if we focus on adding good habits, we will slough the bad habits off eventually. If we focus on reducing or removing the bad ones, it seems to only exacerbate the issue. Apparently, this is called ironic process theory, as related this month by the brief New York Times article, "Resistance Is Futile. To Change Habits, try Replacement Instead." With the big spring clean upon us, many of us look to "clean" ourselves. Which often takes the form of habit-setting.
Purity is a niyama (observance) in Raja Yoga. Although purity might be taken to mean maintaining personal hygiene rituals, wearing clean clothes and keeping a clean house, it also means creating purity within, physically and mentally. Some people have a negative reaction to the word "purity" because today, it may connote an impossible standard of goodness. What I think Patanjali was suggesting is to have a Replacement attitude instead of a Resistance attitude, as described by the NYT and Swami Satchidananda. We don't have to be completely pure to get benefits from making a choice that leads us to more purity. Even though there is always dirt, shouldn't we sweep our house from time to time?
Yoga and Ayurveda offer several practices that aim to purify us on many levels. Hatha yoga keeps our bodies strong and supple, meditation keeps our mind nimble and focused, and a healthy diet ensures we have good, clean energy to run on. There are other practices, called kriyas, that some yogis use to create a purer internal environment, such as using a neti pot or practicing eye exercises. Fasting is another cleansing practice espoused for centuries by yogis, that is gaining credibility in the scientific world. For a more scientific approach to fasting than I'm going to take here, you can look at this article from CMAJ or an opinion from a neuroscientist on the Johns Hopkins Health Review.
Whether or not you fast, it's still a good idea to take a break from foods that tax the digestive system. This is especially true as we transition from heavier foods that warm us in the winter, to more raw foods (which can also tax the system) in the spring and summer. To make the transition smoother, either from one season to another or as an intermediary before and after fasting, yogis eat kitchari. An Ayurvedic recipe traditionally made of mung beans and white rice, it is very easy to digest, filling, and nutritious. Ayurvedic practitioners use it to purify the blood and cleanse the body. It is also delicious. Very, very delicious. Oh yeah, and super easy and fast to make!
So if you'd like to replace an old eating habit with a new, tasty, purity-enhancing habit, try this recipe for kitchari. Five Keys Yoga tested and approved. Yum!
4 servings, 30 minutes
1 C mung dal
1/2 C white rice
2-3 C water
2 T ghee (clarified butter)
1 T grated, fresh ginger
1 tsp mustard seeds
1 tsp cumin seeds
1/2 tsp cumin powder
1/2 tsp coriander powder
1/2 tsp turmeric powder
Pinch of hing (asafoetida powder)
Salt to taste
I usually add a few dried, hot chilies (chopped) and any vegetables I have in the fridge, but that is optional.
Cook the Dal and Rice
Temper the Spices
I like to eat kitchari with a big heap of steamed kale. The crunchy texture of the kale goes so well with the creamy kitchari, and the extra fiber completes the meal. I often top with nutritional yeast or Bragg's liquid aminos for flavor and extra vitamins and nutrients. You can also adjust the seasoning to suit your dosha, or Ayurvedic type.
Did you try the recipe? How did it taste?
The cornerstone of our health is sleep. Quality sleep repairs our body from daily stress and prepares us for growth. Poor sleep has been implicated in a variety of issues, such as being overweight, having poor work performance, and increasing car accidents. Sleep has four stages. The last two stages - and especially the fourth, called REM sleep - are essential for healing. However, the cause of our poor sleep are often the daily stresses we are trying to heal from in REM sleep! Talk about a catch-22.
There are plenty of tips out there on sleep hygiene: exercising, maintaining a regular bedtime routine, unplugging from electronics, and creating a peaceful bedroom. Yoga is another tool in the sleep toolbox. Both adults' and children’s sleep can be benefited from regular yoga practice. But you don't have to fit a yoga class in to reap benefits for your sleep.
Here are three yogic tips for a happy bedtime that you can practice at home!
1. Nadi Sudhi (alternate nostril breathing) -
Nadi Sudhi is a breathing exercise that acts as a tonic to the nervous system and relaxes the body and mind.
Take a deep breath in. Press a finger gently on your right nostril as you breathe out and then in through your left nostril. Switch and gently press another finger on your left nostril, while taking the first finger off your right nostril. Breathe out the through right. Breathe in the right nostril, switch and breathe out the left. Breathe in the left nostril, switch and breathe out the right. Continue alternating nostrils in the breathe in - switch - breathe out pattern for a few minutes. End by breathing out the left nostril. Practice for three complete rounds, gradually working up to ten.
There is also a hand gesture (Vishnu mudra) that is traditionally used during nadi sudhi. Practicing this hand gesture creates added demands on concentration and develops control of the fingers. To use Vishnu mudra, bring your right index and middle fingers into the palm of your hand. Keeping your thumb, ring and pinky fingers extended, alternate your breath between your nostrils. Gently press your thumb on the right nostril and breath out the left, and then switch, pressing your ring finger on the left nostril, breathing out through the right.
You might also try lying on your belly, right cheek on the bed. Gently plug your right nostril and breathe in and out through your left. This stimulates the right side of your brain, tied to the parasympathetic nervous system, which helps you relax.
2. Legs up the wall - Letting your legs rest up the wall is a wonderful way to unwind. It may also help you fall asleep.
Bring your legs up the wall, while you lie on the floor or bed. You might put a firm pillow or folded blanket under your low back (where it lifts from the floor just above the pelvic bones) or under your head. An eye pillow and blanket on top make this a truly restorative pose.
3. Meditation - Repeating a mantra or focusing your attention on a peaceful object or idea (dharana) loosens the hold of stressful thoughts on your mind.
If you don't regularly meditate, you might like to set a timer for five or ten minutes. Then your mind will be free to rest its awareness in your meditation, instead of wondering how long you have practiced.
A few minutes following the breath as it moves in and out of your body has a grounding effect. Watch your mind as the thoughts come and go, without clinging to any thought in particular, nor judging your thoughts when they arise. It is normal for concentration to waver. So if you notice your mind wander, kindly guide your attention back to your breath, your object of concentration or your mantra.
Spending just a few minutes practicing these techniques before bed may save you many minutes tossing and turning throughout the night.
What are some sleep hygiene tips that work for you?
Are you looking for a way to get kids moving in an expressive way with structure to boot?! Check out GoNoodle!
As an educator, I have found these videos beneficial during transitional times with students who find unstructured times in their schedule slightly more difficult to manage. It also has proven beneficial in preparing bodies and minds for instructional times when students are asked to do more demanding or challenging tasks. Integrating these or any movement breaks into a person’s daily schedule is a wonderful practice for developing a balanced and productive learning/living environment. These videos are great for school teachers, parents, and/or givers that are looking to integrate a therapeutic approach to teaching children self-awareness and regulation skills. They even have little characters you can assign to “complete quests” where children (or adults☺) can receive awards and certificates!
At GoNoodle, you will find a plethora of exciting, motivating stretch and strength videos geared towards relieving anxiety, living in the moment, and being kind to yourself. Students follow along with certified instructor to develop skills that assist in gaining focus and finding a place of calamity. Below are a couple of my favorites.
You can find any of these videos under the “Channels” tab on the site. Be sure to sign up for FREE first!
Guest blogger Jennie Best teaches kids' and adult yoga classes, and is a Yoga for the Special Child practitioner with Five Keys.
Just some thoughts about yoga as I go...