Purity: For Body & Mind

Emma Newlyn Yoga Pigeon (revitalise)
Photo by Hanri Shaw for Gossypium Yoga Wear: http://www.Hanri.co.uk & http://www.gossypium.co.uk

We can spend as much time as we like agonising over eating ‘clean food’, organic fruits and vegetables, getting enough vitamins and minerals and drinking enough water, and we can spend hours at the gym in an attempt to mould the body into a perfect shape. Indeed, we can make the body as ‘pure’ as we like, but it makes no difference if we’re still full of s**t.

Although the physical body does hold certain tensions and stresses that link into the mind (you may have experienced for yourself the concept of holding onto emotional tension within the hips, holding onto grief in the area of the chest and heart, or thinking that knee pain is related to feeling emotionally unsupported) it’s important to recognise that it is not our body that experiences our life, but the consciousness within it.

Essentially, our thoughts and our mind create our perception of the world we see around us, and if the thoughts are ‘impure’ – i.e. we have a habit of thinking negatively – then the life we experience will reflect exactly that. We can plainly observe this within the world around us right now; the more ‘polluted’ our minds become, the more polluted, dirty and desperate the planet becomes.

As Siddhartha Gautama – The Buddha – said: “We are shaped by our thoughts, we become what we think. When the mind is pure, joy follows like a shadow that never leaves.”

‘Purity’ can mean many different things to different people, in this context, let’s look at it as meaning ‘unpolluted’. When the mind is clean and pure and we can actually think – and therefore see – clearly, our experience of the world will be much more clear, vivid, unpolluted and true.

luggage-with-tags1Baggage

The subconscious mind records absolutely everything we do; good, bad, eventful, precious, and even those things we’d rather forget – it all gets stored deep in the mind. We can think of the mind a little like a bag we carry around with us; with each of our thoughts, actions and experiences being stored in that bag. As you can imagine; the more ‘stuff’ we repeatedly think of and hold on to, and the more things we experience, the more our bag fills up.

Black-bin-bagThe first thing to consider is whether your bag is a goodie bag – filled with treats, the kind you might receive at a party – or whether it resembles something more along the lines of a rubbish bag. It’s not just the quantity of the things we
hold onto, but the quality too.

In our best state, maybe we feel we’d like to have a goodie bag with just a few good things in there; nothing too heavy to carry. Many of us however, are likely to see the mind more like a rubbish bag which is becoming heavier and heavier to carry the more we allow it to fill with rubbish.

‘Most of us wouldn’t intentionally ingest anything toxic. We are fairly careful with what we eat. But we regularly and knowingly allow noxious emotions and attitudes to enter and pollute our world. We do this largely by dwelling on them. We also do it by keeping the company of people whose perceptual worlds are filled with toxicity.’

– Simon Hass – The Book of Dharma
[1]

The more we hold onto those things that really don’t serve us, the more the mind resembles a rubbish bag; if we don’t take time to get rid of the rubbish, the more the bag begins to release bad smells and toxins, and it becomes more difficult to deal with. In the very same way, if we don’t let go of the rubbish in our minds (e.g. negative thought patterns, wasteful worries, jealousy, anger, attachment etc), then those thoughts begin to release ‘toxins’ into the body, causing physical dis-ease and a general state of negativity within and around us.

Of course, it’s much easier said than done to release old ingrained habits and thought patterns, but the first step is being brave enough to open up the bag and at least have a look at what’s inside – no matter how bad the bin bag smells….

Good Digestion

Digestive-system_AyurvedicYoga and it’s sister science of Ayurveda are particularly concerned with digestion as a way of keeping the body clean and healthy. The Indian medicine system of Ayurveda actually states that our health and wellbeing is very much determined by our digestive health; it’s very much about feeling good and healthy on the inside, rather than looking ‘good’ on the outside. While the Western world shovels in processed ‘treats’, the East is very much against treating the stomach like a bin bag….

Certain postures such as twists, activating the abdominals, and pranayama techniques are particularly effective for stimulating the digestive fire or ‘agni’. Spices like cinnamon, ginger, black pepper, coriander, fennel, cumin, and especially triphala are recommended to aid in digestion too. Many Ayurvedic recipes you’ll find are first and foremost easily digested, which is why you won’t see many recipes requiring raw veg, heavy meat, or anything cold, as this all slows down digestion.

So while it’s important to keep the body functioning optimally and allowing things to ‘pass through’, it’s just as important to allow the mind to take in and release things as is necessary. When the mind gets indigestion, it can’t easily be reconciled with a few spices or a pack of Rennies, so knowing how to keep the body and mind clean and pure is pretty useful for overall health and wellbeing….

parivrtta ashta chandrasanaTwisting Asanas

It’s controversial as to whether twists actually aid in digestion, but the movement of the abdomen and internal organs definitely helps to stimulate the intestines and stomach and provide blood flow to that particular area.

Pranayama Techniques

Pranayama techniques like Kappalabhati (shining skull breath) and even simply relaxing the abdomen and breathing into it allow this part of the body to work properly. (FYI – holding the belly in so it looks ‘flat’ prevents good digestion and inhibits the abdomen and intestines from working properly)…. 

Ayurvedic Daily Dietary Advice

  • Drinking room temperature or warm water is more beneficial for digestion and metabolism than cold water – especially in colder months like Autumn and Winter. If you can, skip the ice when ordering a drink at a café or bar.Kitchari Spices
  • Add plenty of warming spices to foods instead of sugary condiments and table sauces. Cayenne, chilli, black pepper, basil and paprika all give dishes a kick without adding extra sugar.
  • Prepare the digestive tract before a heavy meal by drinking warm water about half an hour before, and a slice of ginger with lemon juice and a little salt sprinkled over.
  • After meal times, refrain from eating dairy or anything cold, as this will hugely slow down digestion and absorption of nutrients. (Sorry ice cream).
  • An important Ayurvedic tip is to eat fruit alone rather than with a meal, as the natural sugars from fruit digest quicker than proteins, fats and other carbohydrates. If fruit is eaten with or after a meal, the fructose will ‘sit’ on top of all the other food while it digests, and ferment, turning into sugar within the body.

Visualisation for Releasing Mental and Physical Toxins

Visualisation techniques can be very powerful for effecting not only our mental state, but our physical body too. Many well known sports people like Tiger Woods, Jonny Wilkinson, Jessica Ennis-Hill, Andy Murray and Wayne Rooney all use visualisation techniques.[2]

‘A study looking at brain patterns in weightlifters found that the patterns activated when a weightlifter lifted hundreds of pounds were similarly activated when they only imagined lifting’, [3] and Arnold Schwarzaneiger made even more ‘gains’ by imagining his biceps growing in size as he simultaneously lifted weights.

To clean out the mind and body – this simple technique is very useful and can be done upon waking and when going to bed, but after practicing a few times you may also feel able to do it when walking along or standing.

  • Either lying down or standing (can also be done while walking if needed), bring the body into alignment – so the spine is long and the ankles, knees, hips, shoulders and ears are in line. The most important part of this is to keep the spine long as this is where physical nerves and esoteric energy flows through the gross and subtle bodies.
  • Bring your awareness to the place between the eyebrows
  • As you inhale, imagine a clean and pure light entering this place
  • Continue to inhale deeply, imagining the light flushing through the whole body, moving downwards towards the feet, removing anything ‘toxic’ like impure thoughts, pain, dis-ease or discomfort in the mind or body.
  • As you exhale, imagine anything you consider ‘toxic’ flushing out of the bottoms of the feet, so that all is left is the pure light inside the body and mind.
  • Practice this for a few minutes at first, and then build up to however long you’re comfortable with. (30 minutes is the maximum to practice in one session, as any longer and the practitioner will be neglecting their worldly duties).

This is a practice you can bring with you anywhere, and for whatever use; whether it’s fear, anger, physical pain, illness, anxiety etc that isn’t needed within the body. It is important to focus only on the pure light while you’re practicing this, and not to focus on whatever ‘toxic’ things you’re trying to remove, as whatever we focus on we will feel more. I’m not a huge fan of guided meditations and visualisations which continually repeat the words ‘illness’, ‘disease’, or ‘pain’, as this just draws our mind back to thinking about exactly what we don’t want….

The takeaway from this? Do what makes you truly happy in mind and body; we’re only here for a relatively short while, and the stuff on the inside matters a whole lot more than what’s on the surface. As it’s the 5th of November and Bonfire night, take this with you too:

“In the end, you will not see the physical beauty in others that caught your eye, but the fire that burned within them. This kind of beauty is the bonfire you had to attend.”
– Shannon L. Alder

[1] Simon Hass – The Book of Dharma pg. 112

[2] http://www.telegraph.co.uk/men/active/10568898/Sports-visualisation-how-to-imagine-your-way-to-success.html

[3] https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/flourish/200912/seeing-is-believing-the-power-visualization

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