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Healthy Trees

"There is an old story of a farmer who was proud of the fruits produced in his orchards. There was one diseased tree that never produced anything of value but merely took up space in the orchard. He tried everything, but couldn't get rid of that tree. He tried cutting it down, but it would grow again from a shoot. He tried poisoning it, but it never quite died. Then one day, following someone's advice, he planted many healthy trees around it. They were vigorous and healthy trees that suited the environment well. Soon it was difficult to see where that diseased tree was amongst them. Gradually those beneficial healthy trees took over the entire space and when the farmer looked for his old adversary, that diseased tree couldn't be found; it had become healthy and on its branches were growing splendid crops of beautiful fruits."

This is sahavasa guna, or qualities that one develops through good companionship.

Like the healthy trees around the diseased trees, thoughts (independent of their qualities) can overpower the overall state of our mind and hence color our existence. Whether we are aware of it or not, thoughts can create confusion, doubt, and can lead to psychological disorders. Yoga is 'Chitta Vritti nirodha', it is the cessation of the fluctuations of the mind, it is using the movement of the body in synch with the breath to learn to control the constant spinning/chatter of the mind. Yoga has a profound effect on the psyche, and this is what has drawn me to practice and teach it.

I came to yoga as a way to heal, amongst other things, from Anorexia Nervosa. Anorexia Nervosa is described as a chronic emotional disorder, meaning it can last for years or be lifelong. "Anorexia is characterized by a distorted body image, with an unwarranted fear of being overweight. Symptoms include trying to maintain a below-normal weight through starvation or too much exercise. Medical treatment may be needed to restore normal weight. It is an emotional disorder characterized by an obsessive desire to lose weight by refusing to eat."

My experience of Anorexia is that it is a disorder of the mind and the nervous system. I am not a therapist nor a doctor but I speak from personal experience and many years of personal research, which ultimately restored my mental health. Being anorexic means living in a constant state of agitation, meaning that your sympathetic system - fight or flight - is in constant alert mode. There is a constant need for control, and a lack of connection to the body and breath. It is the antidote of a state of Yoga. You live victim of your thoughts, and generally these are negative and judgmental. Anorexia nervosa also comes with body dismorfia, meaning there is a disconnect between what you see and what you are, between the the seer and the seen. Patanjali says in sutras 1.3-1.12:

"Then the seer (Self) abides in It's own nature. At other times the Self appears to assume the forms of the mental modifications. There are five kinds of mental modifications, which are either painful or painless. They are right knowledge, misperception, conceptualization, sleep and memory. The sources of right knowledge are direct perception and authoritative testimony. Misperception occurs when knowledge of something is not based on its true form."

He then goes on to tell us how to heal these modifications of the mind:

"These mental modifications are restrained by practice and non attachment. Of these two, effort toward steadiness is practice."

In this case the relationship between seer and seen is experienced like a vast space between the two things. When you practice yoga you begin to experience what it's like to be in your body versus being in your mind. Through this connection of body, mind and breath you merge the gap between what is perceived and the perceiver. It's like being a diseased tree and planting healthy trees around yourself. Eventually the healthy trees take over. The same with negative, destructive, debilitating thoughts. You consciously choose to create good thoughts. Through devotion and practice the good thoughts become a habit and eventually replace the diseased thoughts. Leading to a long lasting state of equanimity of mind. Through stretch and breath you balance out the functions of sympathetic/parasympathetic system.

Learning to control the breath ultimately allows one to have a grip on the mind, having a grip on the mind means there is less attachment to it's content. Non attachment brings fearlessness; that fearlessness is what one needs to overcome these types of disorders, or at least this has been my personal experience. I will talk more about this next week.

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