One factor that sets yoga apart from just going to the gym and lifting weights is the fact that yoga is not just an exercise, but a philosophy, a philosophy that can be beneficially and practically applied to everyday life. There is an abundance of literature concerning this philosophy, enough to last an entire lifetime and beyond. Throughout the 40 day program, I have been gobbling up as much of this literature as physically possible, such as Proof of Heaven by Dr. Eben Alexander, The Great Work of Your Life by Stephen Cope, Walden by Henry David Thoreau ( yes, this book is very relevant to yoga), and Mohandas Gandhi's Autobiography: The Story of My Experiments with Truth.One of my favorite things about yoga is that it also has an academic component to it that builds intellect and brainpower. Shortly after graduating from college last May, I began to miss the mental stimulation that my daily classes and coursework offered me. I missed reading and writing, and more importantly, discussing ideas with others. Once, during a rather unenthused and lackluster class where few seemed interest, I had a professor respond to our lack of enthusiasm for learning by stating that " when we are out in the real world, we will desperately long to return to the days when we could sit in a classroom and grapple about ideas." He sure was right. Luckily, the 40 Day program has not only given me another opportunity to " grapple with ideas," but also the chance to put these ideas into action.
All of the books that I mentioned above have a common theme; each author is concerned with discovering, through experiments, how to live an optimal human life. Optimal human life? What exactly does this mean? While for each person it can mean something slightly different, an optimal human life is one that allows each individual to find perpetual happiness, love, truth, and kindness. To live a life full of these qualities, we must first dispel and eliminate our fears, specifically our fear of failure and death, our doubts, our ignorances, our attachment to material objects, our hatred for ourselves and others, our judgements, our obsession with the outcome. Obviously these are all extremely abstract concepts and therefore, it is difficult to say exactly how to eliminate the negative factors and how to gain the positive ones, and as I mentioned above, each individual's path to happiness and each individuals optimal human life is unique and relative to that individual. Therefore, the only way for each one of us to recognize what is our specific optimal human life is to engage in a series of experiments just as the authors mentioned above did and just as I have during my 40 Day journey. For inspiration and guidance, we can look to figures like Thoreau, Gandhi, Martin Luther King, and many others, to view how they undertook their experiments and what was revealed to them through these experiments.
Thoreau isolated himself from civilization and went to live in a cabin that he had built on Walden Pond in Concord, Mass. Thoreau had become very disillusioned and almost depressed with the superficiality of society and civilized life. Therefore, he turned to the one place where superficiality and gimmicks have no place: Nature. By living close to nature, Thoreau writes that
" I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only he essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when, I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practice resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms." ( unfortunately I do not have page numbers because I am reading on my kindle- so much for living without luxury).
"To put to rout all that was not life… to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms." For me, this phrase is extremely powerful and meaningful because it demonstrates that in order to know life, we must first reduce it to its simplest parts, and this is exactly what Thoreau did. Thoreau was obsessed with the idea of simplicity, with the idea that the fewer external factors we have to concern ourselves with, such as fancy houses, extravagant clothes, overly demanding careers, and endless company, the more able we will be find internal content. Thoreau writes that " a man is rich in proportion to the number of things he can afford to let alone" and that we must "cultivate poverty like a garden herb, like sage. Do not trouble yourself much to get new things, whether clothes or friends. Turn the old; return to them. Things do not change; we change. Sell your clothes and keep your thoughts. God will see that you do not want society.”
To test out this idea of simplicity,Thoreau lived in a small cabin that he built with his own hands, planted only what he needed to survive, did not concern himself with the making of money, spent his days reading and writing and most importantly, observing nature. More than anything else, Thoreau passionately believed that humans can only live meaningful and happy lives if they spend a majority of their time in nature, mostly because nature has the ability to humble us and make us seem completely insignificant, yet supremly important at the same time. In regards to this idea, Thoreau states beautifully and poetically that
“If the day and the night are such that you greet them with joy, and life emits a fragrance like flowers and sweet-scented herbs, is more elastic, more starry, more immortal- that is your success. All nature is your congratulation, and you have cause momentarily to bless yourself. The greatest gains and values are farthest from being appreciated. We easily come to doubt if they exist. We soon forget them. They are the highest reality. Perhaps the facts most astounding and most real are never communicated by man to man. The true harvest of my daily life is somewhat as intangible and indescribable as the tints of morning or evening. It is a little star-dust caught, a segment of the rainbow which I have clutched.”
(I apologize for the number of quotes in this post, but almost every sentence in Thoreau is a magical phrase that has something to teach us). During the time that Thoreau conducted his experiment on Walden Pond, the people around him called him crazy and useless. Yet look at the legacy and guidance that he has left for all of us. If nothing else, Thoreau's experiment at Walden Pond should show us that we must do what our heart tells us to do, regardless if this choice seems crazy and pointless to others.
Gandhi's entire life can be viewed, as he calls it, as an" experiment with truth." Like Thoreau, Gandhi also believed that in order to find happiness and peace, we must live as simply as possible. Gandhi was also very interested in which foods allowed him to live his optimal life. He tried out numerous,sometimes unusual, combinations of food throughout his life. Gandhi was not concerned with eating for hunger's sake.Instead, he viewed food and the act of eating purely as a means to achieve his optimal human condition. Gandhi believed in a vegetarian diet and interestingly enough, many other great minds of our times have strictly followed a vegetarian diet. These minds include Benjamin Franklin, Albert Einstein, Thomas Edison, Frank Kafka, and Leonardo Da Vinci. Gandhi also found that he could only be happy if he was using his being and his services to help others. We all have something to learn from Gandhi.
At the end of my 40 day journey, I will reflect on my experiment with living just as Thoreau and Gandhi did. What is my optimal human life? Am I living simply? What brings me joy? How does being in nature make me feel? If you are looking to undertake your own experiment in living to discover your optimal human life, I recommend any of the books that I mentioned above as starting points. They are all great reads and very inspirational.
While spring is just around the corner, the cold days of winter are still hanging on and my body has been craving spicy and hearty soups lately. Today for lunch, I made a curry lentil soup with peas, carrots, and coconut milk that warmed my belly and my soul. Featuring many different spices and seasonings, such as curry, turmeric, cardamom, and cinnamon, this soup has many health benefits too!Here is the recipe below if you need a little warming up as well. The recipe comes from the cookbook Vegan Planet by Robin Robertson
1 Large yellow onion, cut into pieces
2 garlic cloves, peeled
1 teaspoon peeled and chopped fresh ginger
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon curry powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
3 cups water
1 1/4 cups dried brown lentils, soaked overnight
2 medium size carrots, halved lengthwise and cut into thin half-moons
1 cup frozen green peas, thawed
1 cup unsweetened coconut milk
Salt and pepper
1. In a food processor, puree the onion, garlic, and ginger
2.Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan over low heat. Add the onion puree, cover and cook to mellow the flavor, about 5 minutes, stirring a few times. Stir in the spices and cook, stirring for 30 seconds. Add the water and bring to a simmer. Add the lentils, cover, and cook until tender, 30 to 40 minutes. After 10 minutes, add the carrots
3.When the lentils and carrots are tender, add the peas, coconut, milk, and salt and pepper to taste. Simmer, uncovered, to incorporate the flavors, about 10 minutes. Serve hot
Makes 4-6 servings. ( I topped mine with sprouts for an extra boost of nutrition!).
Yum, yum, yum! Just looking at this picture warms me up a little bit!
Om Shanti Shanti Shanti! As always, thanks for reading!