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The delicate art of living is finding balance.
Springtime is finally here! The sun's return ushers explosions of colourful blossoms and the chill in the air turns into a comfortable balmy breeze. As life starts to stir with new excitement and activity, we see the spaces where contentment helps us settle into easy stillness. Yet, failure to plan for the future (planting seeds for new growth and change) will rattle you out of cold weather stagnation and make you take action for a thriving life.
Personally, the theme of balance is super important, but 'getting it right' can feel hard to establish. Going with the flow, enjoying the ride of activity and working long hours can be an excellent ride, but soon you see yourself not taking breaks to wind down properly, or really feeling that deep nourishing replenishment from your yoga/meditation practice. Of course, you take a few days off - only to come out the other end feeling behind on new tasks that need to be done. Oh, the mind loves the game, but this see-saw play is a great opportunity to ease back into the graceful rhythms that serve you best.
The Spring Elevate cleanse was a beautiful experience of taking gentle action steps to move forward, and regenerating the focused enthusiasm for the many life projects I hope to achieve, but sometimes the return to heavier foods can feel like a crash landing!
From an outside point of view, activities such as yoga or fitness challenges, dietary cleansing, fasting, or austere practices like Vipassana (silent meditation retreats) almost beg the criticism that they are not the key to finding healthy balance. The inner (and outer) naysayer often finds skepticism in trying anything too hardcore because of fear, firstly, but also the mind's tendency to jump to conclusions about the ultimate objective.
Why do a 30-day yoga challenge? To get fit, limber up, learn more, practice, lose weight... People seek challenges for any number of reason, and yet, also avoid them for the same (if not more reasons). "What's the point?" "I'm already pretty good, healthy, not overweight, knowledgeable." Sometimes referring to past experiences where, "I'll just quit again, gain back the weight, I'm too busy, tired, unwell..." the list goes on.
This is very similar to the experiences we see on the Elevate Cleanse Program. Many people will avoid participating because they want to cleanse in their own way, in their own time, or not at all. Some see cleansing as a way to promote disordered eating and body shaming as seen in the culture of Western yoga. Many times, cleansing is seen as a diet that will just set you up to fail like any other.
All of these mindsets sit on the see-saw of extremes as a way of measuring the degree of risk needed for success or failure. Mental balance is perhaps the most challenging yoga practice, and these are just two examples of how it effects our ability to participate in life experiences that can ultimately aid our personal growth.
Spiritual traditions and ascetic practices are almost synonymous.
Why does one need to exercise restriction, effort, and sometimes true discomfort to experience any physical or spiritual benefit? Surely, we can live fully and freely through the enjoyment of sense pleasures, and in fact, many yogis and Tantric texts refer to the bliss of experience through the vehicle of the body. But here's a great example of how one extreme can actually help move your towards a place of balance, self-love and acceptance.
If someone's life experience leads them to soothe suffering in the overconsumption of food, drugs, media, or other sensory compulsions, it's clear that this excess brings about ill-health and disease. Most often an emotional or spiritual malaise that has been exacerbated by the sense attachment and its consequences. The same can be true in the cases of underconsumption, mainly of food, shelter and love, the fundamental needs for the body to survive, which can be another mode of relief, coping and self-control method from a place of disconnection and emotional/spiritual discord.
In rare and historical cases, asceticism of spiritual traditions encourages faith and connection to Source, belief in life restoration even in dire circumstances. Unlike the willful restriction practised by ascetics, or those who suffer from disordered eating (which can be and interesting topic to explore separately) survival under extreme conditions with a devout will to live or die remaining connected to God/Source can be credited to accounts of survival by the force of life alone, which tends to establish and embolden a spiritual direction to the lives of those who have had this experience.
Let's bring it back to a more daily level of interest and effort:
In our modern world, why do we do anything that challenges the limits of our extremes? Simply put, to stretch the boundaries of our current beliefs about ourselves and our ability to imagine something greater.
After breezing through a 5-Day Juice Cleanse this month, my awareness was heightened, my capacity for living fully even more expansive, and the will to move forward alive and well. As I allow myself to 'come back' into my body by eating more dense foods, grounding can feel good, but it also comes with a price. Sometimes coming out of a cleanse (even in the right way) can feel like a crash landing. There is some turbulence, relief, and the enthusiasm remains, but the reality is that much of the sightseeing was done when your mind was high on life connection. Now, integration is the work at hand.
This year, I found that despite the ease of the full 11 Day Program, the challenges have come a few days afterwards, where I see the body reaching compulsively for ways to ground, and settle, and uplift and so on. The body/mind is seeking balance once again, and I have to watch and allow it to find the way to regulate itself.
Much like someone who gets 'sick and tired of being sick and tired,' it's important to feel this discomfort, to watch yourself act in certain ways, to feel disappointed, to then find the courage to make a conscious decision to create real positive change.
For me, I always return to the knowledge that I have tools from these experiences. I have access to information that can help me, and feel connected to my intuition, knowing that this too shall pass. But, this experience is a reminder that there is no single ritual, routine, practice, or commitment that can fully pause the mind's desire to shake things up once in a while, just for rebellion's sake. And instead of chastising yourself for not being 'yogi enough,' for not following the same routines every day for the past 25 years to create perfection, the modern yogi is aware that having these human experiences also informs the necessity of the practice. Giving it more validation as a source of inspiration to get back up and try again!
As a yoga teacher, I believe it is becoming more important for us to share the inner experience of our own journey, complete with doubt, fear and imperfection so that we can create a more democtratised experience of yoga. I hope you find this account of finding balance through the practice of gentle extremes beneficial on your path to self-mastery. It's a wild ride, but when the dust settles and you're covered in mud, some cuts and bruises, you'll know you were there for the ride.
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