The Tapas of Cleansing the Body (and the Mind)
Written by Nicole Sopko
Created Thursday, 17 May 2012
Cleansing. Lots of people are doing it and there are probably hundreds if not thousands of different methods that people recommend of cleansing the body ranging from juicing to water fasting and beyond. You can cleanse the body and its organs by altering what you ingest, by cleaning the colon, or by drawing toxins through the skin. The methods and opinions on the best methods are endless, but rest assured that there is a method most suited for every one of us.
I am personally not a good cleanser. I do not “like” a restricted diet, no matter how short the time period is or what the restriction. Like many people I suppose, I prefer to eat whatever I like whenever I like, which is great for the senses, but not always good for the body or for maintaining a healthy amount of willpower. Additionally, too much sense indulgence in the form of food usually leaves my pallet affected and intensifies additional cravings for more sweet/salty/oily stuff.
A few years ago, while training with my teacher, I was put on a “yogic” diet for three months. Contrary to previous attempts to alter my food intake, I reacted well to the clear instructions about what should and should not be eaten. I spent much of that cold Chicago winter living off of minimally-cooked and primarily unprocessed foods. It was like heaven. Whenever I had the urge to “cheat,” one small taste of a formerly delicious “treat” put me right back on track as my taste buds had become accustomed to my new diet. I felt great, I avoided illness, I was expanding my culinary horizons by getting more inventive with my meal preparations. It was heaven! Of course, it ultimately didn’t last. Once the instruction ceased, the diet waned and I was back to eating a still mostly-healthy (and always totally vegan) but somewhat more-processed diet. I feel like I have a good balance, but aspire to the willpower that I had previously (though, it was quite divinely inspired).
The yogic principal of Tapas is, pretty understandably given my previous comments, one that I struggle with. Tapas is a Sanskrit word that, directly translated, means “heat.” In practice it is used to describe spiritual austerities. These can be any kind of practices that challenge physical cravings and give the mind the opportunity to go beyond the demands of the body. Cleansing is one great example of tapas as it frees the body from itself and allows the challenges of the mind to be met head-on. The Bhagavad Gita says that, “That in which one comes to rejoice by practice and in which one reaches the end of pain, and that which is like poison at first, but like nectar in the end – that happiness, born of the clear knowledge of the Self, is said to be out of the nature of sattva.” (18:37) Sattva, meaning purity, is one of the modes of material nature and the one for which we should strive to exist. Therefore, we should not fear those things which seem like “poison” in the beginning when they are ultimately leading us to a good place for in the end, we will be purely at peace. This is like Tapas.
Your cravings might not be food related, but could be something else that you indulge in but could be better served without. Figure out your own cleanse and see if you can spend a few days experimenting with your own exercise in Tapas. What have you got to lose? (Other than all of those tricky attachments and vices, of course.)
(Photo: Kitchari in India. If you are looking for a dietary cleanse, one that I might recommend is an Ayurvedic-inspired kitchari mono-diet. You can find more information here. This diet is nutritious, affordable, and can be varied some with different vegetables and Ayurvedic chutneys.)
Nicole Sopko is a Chicago-based yoga teacher who has been living a vegan lifestyle for the past 15 years and views that transition as her first yoga practice. She is also a dedicated student of Sri Dharma Mittra, who encourages students to recognize the light in all beings. A believer in the power of yoga as a lifestyle, Nicole feels that a playful yoga practice enables a person to approach the more mundane aspects of life with a lighter heart and a more accepting attitude. Her yogic journey has played a big role in her life and she feels lucky to have the opportunity to share that journey with others.
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