NB This article appeared in a newsletter to my yoga students earlier this year but at the time I didn’t dare to unleash it on the internet. But, today, I realised quite how pertinent it is to the topic of saucha, which I have just blogged about, and so again I man up and speak my truth, this time to a (potentially) even larger audience!
(Preamble: This piece effortlessly flowed out of me one day, and somehow I knew I needed to ‘put it out there’, even though the thought filled me with dread and fear. Yet I have learnt to go deeper than the flurries of surface feelings and listen to the quiet voice within. It told me to ‘be the change I want to see’ by facing my fear of vulnerability and speaking my truth, even the ugly bits. It whispered to me that the nerves and the sense of vulnerability are just another illusion. So, if even just one person reads this and finds the courage to begin or continue their own inner investigations into uncovering their truth then it will be worth it, as I believe we heal the world one person at a time.)
Having run a yoga and raw food detox day the other day, I’ve been thinking a lot recently about the nature of detoxification.
But it has come to me that our perception of detoxification is often incomplete – we focus on the body, but rarely do we also focus on tackling the toxins of the mind, yet the body and mind are inseparable. And in fact I’ve been thinking that, until we also focus on removing the toxins of the mind, our attempts at body purification will never fully succeed in the way we want them to – the fruits of our efforts will be, at best, short-lived as eventually the mental toxins will kick in again and send us back down old, tiresome pathways of negative behaviour. Whereas, if we can go to the root cause and cease the negative thoughts, then our behaviour will naturally become more self-supporting.
So what is a toxic emotion or thought? Well, anything negative, which doesn’t serve us – such as fear, anger, hate, guilt, shame, envy, spite, anxiety, competitiveness, stinginess, sadness, depression, melancholy, selfishness, arrogance… You get the picture. And toxic emotions and thoughts lead inevitably to toxic actions, which are more often than not targeted at ourselves. This plays out as self-destructive behaviour – for example binge-eating, drinking too much, smoking, feeling lethargic and unable to exercise, being too strict on ourselves, workaholism etc. We all have our own different patterns of physically expressing the toxic thoughts we have about ourselves. And until we understand these patterns and their cause, and begin to confront and root out the toxic thoughts that lie behind them and the deep, destructive negative core beliefs that lie behind the toxic thoughts, our attempts at body purification will never fully heal us in the way we want and need to be healed, no matter how many calories we burn or how many superfoods we eat.
Here’s a case-study example:
There was a young woman in her late twenties who felt inexplicably sad a lot of the time. She felt lost in the world and suffered from constant low-level unease and anxiety. She was hyper-critical of what she saw in the mirror and felt surging envy of others a lot of the time. She frequently felt worthless and drove herself to attempts at perfection in all that she did, to try and feel a sense of worth, then suffered crashing lows whenever she didn’t meet her self-set goals of perfection. She had an addiction to exercise/activity and also had an unhealthily greedy appetite – the extreme exercise justified the over-eating in her controlling mind. Frenzied calorie-counting were a part of her day and her time was strictly compartmentalised into different ‘productive’ activities, with no time permitted between for just existing and enjoying the present moment. Her existence was tightly controlled and inactivity made her anxious; she preferred to rush around helping other people out with their problems than stop and take time to face up to her own issues – but of course she didn’t see it like this at the time. From the outside she looked like a very healthy, successful, happy, sociable young woman, yet on the inside things were becoming very toxic indeed and the amount of control required to maintain the outward ‘perfection’ was becoming too much. Things started to unravel…
Eventually in her early thirties, her body took matters into its own hands and revolted, in the form of a debilitating bout of clinical depression, forcing the young woman to finally stop running away from herself and face up to her inner toxicity. From this point forward, once she was through the worst of the depression, the young woman’s focus shifted from maintaining the illusion of outward perfection through controlling habits, to investigating the reasons behind the need to control and be perfect. She began to explore, confront, allow and finally let go of mental toxins, one by one, and began to understand the deeply rooted negative core beliefs she had about herself that led to such toxic thoughts – she went deep and, in the end, unearthed the dark, shameful bedrock that shaped her world; a fear that she was unloveable, that she just wasn’t good enough, that she was a bad person and people would find out. Finally, she began to purify, chipping away at the bedrock a bit at a time. It was a long, slow process and the toughest thing she’d ever done in her life, but she never looked back…
You may have guessed by now that this young woman was indeed myself.
And, I can personally vouch for the fact that, as soon as I shifted my focus onto healing my mind, my body increasingly began to look after itself as a natural by-product, and that beautiful process still continues, the further down this path I go. As I have rooted out more and more toxic thought patterns, my self-love has grown, and with that comes a natural desire to nurture myself in a wholesome, positive way, with nutritious food, moderate exercise and sufficient rest. My diet is changing naturally, without force or control, and I’m starting to find the natural balance of exercise that feels right for my body. I’ve learnt to recognise the things that make my spirit soar and ensure I make time for them. In short, I’ve become kinder to myself.
It all comes down to your motive. The difference is, when you start focusing on healing the mind and fostering self-love, actions motivated by negative feelings of ‘not being good enough’ are gradually replaced by actions driven by genuine self-love and self-care. And that is a HUGE difference. You will naturally be more drawn to nourishing experiences rather than destructive experiences as you increasingly value yourself.
And, my goodness, I’m not saying I’m 100% there with this, not by a long-shot – I’m not sure it’s possible to ever banish all of our toxic thoughts, so deeply are some of them rooted. But you can certainly come to see them for what they are – illusory, dark thoughts that seek to control you out of misguided, fear-based self-preservation. But just by recognising them as such, their power diminishes and, with a commitment to continuous brutal self-honesty, eventually disappears. From my own journey, I can certainly say that, with a desire to change positively and a commitment to delving inward and confronting all of the ugly truths you find in there, you can change your life around in the most holistic and liberating of ways.
There’s no doubt in my mind that my commitment to yoga over the last fifteen years has helped this purification process. Sure, at times it has seemed as though yoga is part of the problem (it became part of my exercise addiction for many years), but I see now it was never yoga that was the problem, it was my attitude to yoga, which was heavily misguided by the mental toxicity. All the time, yoga has been quietly working its magic on me in the background – purifying my nervous system, filling me with prana, gifting me with moments of stillness and quiet, naturally weaving its ethical code into my life, keeping me grounded, gently confronting me with my ego (and sometimes not so gently!), introducing me to inspirational people and places – basically preparing me for this epic inner journey I’ve embarked on and keeping me safe as I weather the many storms that it unleashes within me. It has become a comforting beacon of light on the journey, a safe harbour.
And for that I am very grateful as, once you start the inner journey, there is no going back – it’s a one-way ticket towards shedding layer after layer of illusion and coming closer to who you truly are. So you definitely need some faithful friends along the way, and yoga has been there with me through thick and thin. Your own inner journey might take you away from yoga and towards other things, and that’s of course completely fine – I can only speak from my own experience. We all walk our own unique path back to ourselves and each path is just as valid and beautiful as the next. It’s the longest, slowest, most difficult and tortuous journey you’ll ever make, yet also it’s the most exciting, joyful, fascinating and, ultimately, life-changing gift you can give yourself. It will challenge everything you’ve ever thought about yourself and the world, but it will also light up your life in ways you probably haven’t dreamt about and will enable your inner light to burn brightly, the way it longs to do.
So, my advice to you whenever your thoughts turn to having a detox is to look at the things about yourself you are unhappy with and, rather than looking for the external ‘quick fix’, instead delve inwards, with real honesty, and see what you find in there. It may not be pretty, but the glorious truth of the matter is that those dark thoughts are not who you really are. With effort (and also, most likely, with help), you can learn to let them go. And then you become free to be the beautiful, loving, loveable soul that you truly are.
I wish you much courage and strength on the journey… 🙂
(Post script: My desire above all else is to help others by having the guts to speak my truth in a way that allows others to feel the healing liberation of speaking theirs. I dream of a day when we no longer have to hide our inner truths from each other through fear of vulnerability – one day we will evolve beyond that and feel connected enough to ourselves and each other to be able to interact with true honesty, and life will be sweet… :))