Shakes n’ pills n’ veggies, oh my! How, if at all, does dietary cleansing relate to yoga, a practice traditionally concerned with the ultimate goal of Realization? Enhanced focus, fine-tuned internal awareness, the sattvic preference, and a touch of renunciation all play important roles in both yoga and cleansing.
In yogic psychology, there are five conceptual layers of self. Looking at my detox from that perspective . . .
Annamaya Kosha – the Physical Layer of Self
Translated directly as the “sheath of food,” the annamaya kosha is the outermost layer of the Self. This is the first theoretical layer, though direct translations of the terms “maya” (appearance) and “kosha” (sheath) reveal the underlying Vedantic idea that even these five layers of self are illusory. In this vein of thought, although the koshas are important for self-examination, the true self is ultimately formless consciousness-bliss.
You’d think the physical aspect of cleansing would be the most important, and even the most dominant, in terms of results, right?
Well, to start, the cleanse resulted in a huge increase in the number of “number 2s” in my day! All the herbs and psylium husk we ingest made sure of that. But it wasn’t until Day 9 when I started to see visible changes in the gross body. My torso shrank a wee bit, making the jeans -wiggle a thing of the past! The skin on my face almost totally cleared up, though I’m still having sensitivity reactions to the desalinated water up in here. In fact, my face in general looks noticeably more slender, especially in my chin and neck. And as a sweet little cherry on top, my asana practice has benefitted big time.
An advanced asana video I frequently use while living abroad felt just a hint more physically strenuous, one hour into the practice, but I found I was able to hold the most challenging postures for longer periods of time. Twists, likely thanks to the shrunken torso, are deeper than just a week ago, which has the exponential benefit of a more intense massage on the liver and kidneys – detox galore!
Pranamaya Kosha – the Energetic Layer of Self
At the very start of the cleanse, I remember lying in bed and feeling a warm rush surge through my body. It started in a wave from my stomach and slowly coated my entire body to the very tips of my limbs. Immediately I thought of the cleanse, how this experience marked the beginning of a turning point of some kind. It might sound hokey, and believe me, I was just as surprised as you probably are suspicious (or perhaps weirded out!), but it happened!
The pranamaya kosha supplies energy to the entire body through breath and vital life force, or “prana.” The Hawaiian equivalent to the concept of prana would be “mana,” in China “chi,” and in Japan, “ki.” Sometimes, I just like to call it my mojo, baby, yeeeeah! Somewhere at about Day 4 I sensed a subtle shift in energy. My mood lifted considerably, making the days go by much faster than before. The sensation increased as the detox days rolled on.
Manomaya Kosha – the Layer of the Mind
All the physical & energetic benefits aside, the psychological effects of cleansing have to be the most remarkable, in both their transformative powers and long-term sustainability. In that same asana session, I noticed my focus had improved significantly. There was no shaking my concentration, in even the most demanding of positions. I kinda felt like a super yogi! This is the layer of the five senses and the ego, the cause of diversity, and the root of all concepts involving I or mine. If, as yoga schools propose, humans are indeed trapped by the bondage of the mind, it is also through the mind our liberation is possible.
Yogah chitta vritta nirodaha, as the Sanskrit reads in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, Yoga is the cessation of mental fragmentation.
The benefits experienced through dietary cleansing within the manomaya kosha include:
• Increased clarity
• Heightened focus
• A new appreciation for each food’s unique taste
• A humble sense of accomplishment
• Subsequent empowerment
• The discovery of your relationship to food
• The breaking of bad habits
• An honing of your ability to tune in to the internal language of your body and mind.
Tuning in to Your Rhythms
All this “tuning in” to my body’s internal language – the effect of the herbs, the strange lack of hunger, the subtleties of new flavors – I’m reminded of the yogic concept of “nada,” which translates to “sound.” When meditation reaches a certain depth, practitioners are said to tune in to the inner sound, sometimes, though not always, manifested as “om.”
One of the skills yogic practice develops is one’s sense of inner self, your ability to hear the signals and patterns of your body and mind. Internal awareness becomes even more proficient, allowing you to hear what your body needs and when it needs it. Instead of running on auto-pilot, and allowing your brain to tell you, “There’s a bag of chips on the counter, eat it,” you become more conscious of whether or not you’re actually hungry.
This enhanced awareness even serves to make eating a more enjoyable act. Everyone participating in the cleanse with me this year remarked on a more developed appreciation for food. What few items we were allowed to eat were like little nuggets of rare experiential gold. A new spice could instantly make our day! That’s a powerful benefit on many levels.
In previous cleanses, I consumed only liquids. – so in those cases, my mindspace was freed of planning, shopping, preparing, serving and eating the food. But this cleanse required a very strict diet, to be eaten 1-2 times per day. I constantly had food on my mind, and yet, I still experienced improved concentration.
I can’t say I know exactly how it works, on a bio-chemical or neurological level, but it does work. Forgive me if I sound like an infomercial! But every cleanse has given me greater insight into the experience of nurturing through diet. I can’t help but sing its praises!
The Innermost Koshas
Working our way ever deeper through the layers of yoga psychology, we find ourselves at the Vijnanamaya and Anandamaya koshas – the sheaths of intellect/wisdom and bliss. Though I couldn’t speak to the effects of a dietary cleanse on the layer known as “reflection of the Atman, bliss absolute,” I can say with some certainty I’m all the wiser for having completed it!
I think of cleanses as “pressing the dietary reset button,” and the ripples of your effort are felt for months to follow. You make better decisions when shopping for food, and have probably learned new methods of preparation and combination you’ll always have in your culinary skills toolbox. Communication with your digestive system is improved, and this more intimate relationship means you’re better able to discriminate between nurturing and destructive foods to provide.
And if that’s not wisdom, I don’t know what is!