For the last couple of days I have been staying with a dear friend at an old fashioned spa in the countryside. I never thought I would spend vast quantities of dosh on something so luxurious but I’m here to tell you it was worth every penny.
Everything, everything, everything was taken care of and for the duration of our stay we could flop about in dressing gowns and slippers and wander from one bodily experience to the other seamlessly being pummeled, stewed and sunken; preened, pruned and fed, being educated by informed nutritionists, put through our paces in a class horribly named ‘legs, tums & bums’, soothed into deep relaxation by an elderly lady who resembled a wise turtle and deeply massaged by a very strong and intuitive man.
I’m not, I’ve realized after many years thinking otherwise, actually that good at relaxing. It’s a little bit like the fable of the dentist with crooked teeth, the tailor with holes in his only jacket and the doctor who smokes like a chimney. I’m the yoga teacher who actually can’t relax. On the surface I seem relaxed, but my friend described my energy in a nutshell, she said: “you’re like the sea, calm, steady, but those waves keep coming, steady, steady, steady”.
Its like that, I can’t sit down for too long, unless I’m engrossed in reading; when I wake up, I jump up; on leisurely weekends I’m the one saying “so what’s the plan?” but thankfully at Grayshott people like me were taken into account; there were scrabble boards, rubbish magazines and commentary papers lying about in the elegant drawing room. There were thoughtfully landscaped gardens with matured acacia trees, rhododendrons and wild roses competing for the senses of the lone wanderer.
I took to the outside for languid strolls where I marveled at my own impatience and found myself promptly back at the tea station drinking my fortieth mug of hot water with lemon. Its this curious blend of pausing and rushing that brought my attention to the true role of the mind in our lives. While my body was being attended to semi constantly, offered the choice of exertion or pampering, grueling exercise or plump cushioned sofas, my mind was playing a tug 'o’ war, a ‘resistance’ against all this luxury.
Many of the visitors to Grayshott are there as part of a program where their diets and lifestyles are given a full overhaul and they are over the course of a week instilled with intelligent information regarding nutrition and things like body composition. It seems that poor diet is the leading cause of death and disease in our society, more so than smoking, drinking alcohol and inactivity combined. These people are taking their health seriously and it is a heartening environment to be in, although my friend and I are not part of the program.
There is a time though when our bodies call for our attention and there is a time when they can finally have their say. Often we don’t listen and years may go by, we start to cultivate stuff like adipose fatty tissue in places where it shouldn’t be (gawd, I don’t remember if there’s anywhere it should be), we develop diabetes, degenerative diseases now outnumber infectious diseases in our culture and these can all be avoided!
But what interests me in all of this is the effect on our minds of this state of disease. Even as adept meditators we can feel a fog descending over our awareness as we practice meditation, the Tibetan Book of Living & Dying encourages us to “ Alert yourself, straighten your back, breathe the stale air out of your lungs, and direct your awareness into clear space to freshen your mind” for “If you remain in this stagnant state, you will not evolve; so whenever this setback arises, clear it again and again. It is important to be as watchful as possible, and to stay as vigilant as you can.”
Through vigilance I have noticed that what we put into our bodies has a very strong effect on our mental state. Stimulants and downers such as too much bread induce fogginess, overdosing on cheese is mucus building and interferes with a smooth breath which in turn affects the mental clarity that is so dependent on this vital breath. Its hardly news but we are what we eat.
Vigilance has also brought me to the conclusion that bingeing on rubbish magazines or simply overdosing on opinion columns can lead to a comatose state that is not conducive to the sweet sattva of meditation. Flicking through Hello magazine is the epitomy of a tamasic activity for the body, watching an action DVD could be another one. But in both of these instances the content we are absorbing is ‘rajasic’, fiery, adrenaline fuelled and glitzy. This cocktail can result in functional disorders such as chronic fatigue and depression. For more on this a look at the gunas would be of interest.
Yoga and spa going are hardly incompatible, so if you do happen to have the dosh (its very not cheap) I highly recommend Grayshott and if you don’t here’s a few ideas to have your own healing retreat at home:
- buy a ridiculous amount of fresh vegetables and fruit, it’s a sure way to be inspired to eat it
- read up a bit about nutrition (The Weston A. Price foundation is particularly interesting I find)
- pour a lot of Epsom or Dead Sea salt into your bath and soak for a good 20 minutes. Each has a different effect so go for what you need most.
- ask a friend for a 10 minute back rub, pay them back in kind
- hot-cold-hot-cold showering is very stimulating for the immune system, so take a deep breath and go for it!
- be creative in finding ways to sweat: jumping up and down on a mini trampoline is meant to be fantastic to increase energy levels.