By Rachana Chopra
Restraint can be of many kinds, but the common underlying philosophy or logic of all types is control of the senses. Why control the senses? Because senses running amuck can be likened to standing defenseless on a ground being trampled by wild horses. You will eventually get run over.
The Sanskrit term for restraint is pratyahara, derived from two Sanskrit words of prati (away or against) and ahara that is literal for food, and broadly signifies all consumption. Restraint also forms the important fifth limb of the eight-limb Ashtanga yoga; and is defined by Yoga Sūtra of Patañjali as the turning inwards and away from sensory stimuli.
This turning away starts at the level of the senses (indriya pratyahara), encompasses undertaking selective and selfless actions (karma pratyahara), retention of breath (prana pratyahara), and finally paves the way for the mind to turn inwards (mano pratyahara), akin to a tortoise retracting its limbs. Many yogic practices are proposed to attain this multi-tiered restraint, such as concentrating on the space between eyebrows, sitting in a lotus pose while meditating, or prolonging breath retention.
Yet all these practices yield little reward unless we control the dissipation of energy occurring in everyday living. This dissipation is a direct fallout of habits unquestioningly adopted in modern existence. The most common amongst which is the mass habit of eating food cooked at restaurants, café, bars and fast food chains. This is one of the outstanding (and most commonly overlooked) dissipation of energy that we allow everyday, year after year, without questioning it. In fact, we don’t even have to plan such outings—they have become second nature. We also expend huge sums of money doing it; yet another channel for energy leakage since we earn it.
“Jaisa aahar vaisa vichar” is a deeply ingrained Indian Philosophy, that means that our food intake controls our thoughts. While there is a lot of talk about organic foods and such, we overlook the quintessential requirement of a good diet—purity of what we absorb. Purity of a meal is controlled by purity of ingredients, purity of intent with which it is prepared, and purity with which it is ingested. When we eat outside, all these three indexes of purity get compromised.
When we eat meals cooked by others (often for profit motive), we not only absorb their physical and mental vibrations, we unwittingly imbibe their psychic tendencies. Besides, of course, ingesting the background music, chatter of customers, scent of other foods that we haven’t even “ordered” (quite a contrast to prayerful yogic eating), strong tastes we would normally not prepare for ourselves, and much more. After offering our bellies, our tastebuds, our ears, and our sense of scent and sight—we return home to concentrate on the third eye, and wonder why we can’t sight it!
That is because the Ajna Chakra or the third eye is that part of the brain that needs working, just like any other muscle. Its perception hinges upon sincere practice of yogic restraint, and withdrawal from excessive stimuli. The collective practice of outside dining, however, is the direct opposite; it hinges upon indulging in excessive stimuli. It is one of the worst things we can possibly do to our body-mind complex; tantamount to a spiritual suicide. No amount of breath control or asanas can help you recall the inner strength and purity that just got spent.
Besides, allowing strangers to feed you is equivalent to allowing trespassing on private property! Your body IS your real estate. Guard it with utmost care. Let meal times be prayerful times, as we accept nutrition into our bodies, and watch it almost instantly transmute into thought quality. Cook your own meals with love, carry your own meals; even carry your beverages. Have a sense of pride in feeding yourself!
Within just a few months of this endeavor, you would start to notice your inner purity grow. Your patience muscle would also begin to develop, as you would often have to persevere till you get home, and not stop at McDonalds for quick gratification. Your self-prepared meal may be simpler (and perhaps not as mouthwatering initially), but you would taste a different flavor in this meal—the taste of restraint. Let your hunger grow for this flavor.
The author of this holistic wellness blog is a modern mystic, and spiritual travel guide. She guides self-discovery journeys to places of power and pilgrimage in American Southwest and South Asia. Web: www.rachnachopra.com, Email: [email protected]