I recently came back from a week in the Peruvian jungle, right on the edge of Manu National Park. It was amazing. I was enchanted by all of it: the monkeys, the birds, the insects (their form and sounds, but not their bites!), the exotic and fascinating jungle plants, the camp and fecund heat, the awe of the Amazon basin extending out beyond the confines for our lodge, and the allure of the unknown and uncharted territory beyond the river. I began the trip with all my yoga habits in check, but in the end, the jungle turned out to be the perfect disruption to my tidy yoga life.
I am a very habit oriented person, as you have probably figured out by now, and I love my daily routine. So, when I travel, I try my best to keep my routine intact. I had every intention of keeping my morning and evening yoga and meditation sessions, and I brought along my supergreen powder for my morning drink and my chia oatmeal. But, I ended up letting go of my very regular daily routine and just went with the flow of the selva. Rather than doing my daily mantra meditation (which I pride myself on always doing), when I sat to meditate, I discovered that I just wanted to listen to the jungle noises to gaze out at the jungle. So I ended up starting and ending my days in this way, simply taking in the jungle, which turned out to be a different but very delightful sort of meditation. As well, I let go of my daily yoga asana practice because there were early morning activities planned for us and I was moving my body in other ways. Also, admittedly, I was not so comfortable doing yoga on the grass or ground because of the very large number of biting ants and chiggers! When it came to meals, I was ready on day 1 with my supergreen powder and oatmeal, but after that first day, some rodent found its way into my food bag and that was the end of that. So, I didn’t begin my day with a green smoothie and chia oatmeal, but I did enjoy wonderful fruits and products from the jungle. The place we were staying in had set meal times, and I ate at those times, and I ate what they served me. There was an itinerary of activities, adventures, and mealtimes planned for us which involved early morning hikes and night time jungle walks, and afternoon monkey viewing excursions, and I just dove right in and went with it. It was, in a sense, a perfect disruption of my tidy yoga life.
I am reminded of this passage from a famous poem by Walt Whitman:
Do I contradict myself?
Very well then I contradict myself;
(I am large, I contain multitudes.)
On the drive back out of the selva (jungle) back up into the sierra (highlands), two Sanskrit words came to mind: krama and akrama. Krama stands for order, tidiness, and sequence and akrama is disorder or that which is beyond order. Yoga encompasses both, which is to say, yoga is comfortable with contradictions, and so am I.
We see krama, order, all over the natural world. Just look at a plant, an animal, or even your own body, and you see a deep order, an arrangement, a sequence. Our physiology loves krama. When life is tidy and orderly, our bodies are happy and whole. That’s why the great yogis and Ayurvedic vaidyas promote habits. The wisdom of yoga and Ayurveda lies in daily habits: the habit of a daily morning meditation practice, the habit of a daily asana yoga practice, the habit of eating at the same time of the day and going to sleep at the same time each day. Habits promote wellness and wholeness.
And, yet, all order manifests from the Great Consciousness which is beyond all order, akrama. Even nature herself, at times, goes against her own order and produces a perfect storm. As a longtime practitioner of the habits of yoga and Ayurveda, I can attest to the power of ritual disruption. Sometimes things just need to be shaken up. I shake up my life by going to places like Peru, going on outdoor adventures, and by going on meditation or yoga retreats. After the shake up, when life settles, there is a renewed capacity for depth and greater insight and understanding.
Many if not most traditional cultures have ritual disruptions, festivals or holy days in which the normal routine is disrupted and even thrown out the window. On such ritual festival days, men and women may swap dress and roles. Special foods are prepared. Special music, dances, rituals, and ceremonies often take place. Regular meal and sleep schedules are abandoned. There is a sense of wild abandon. Such ritual disruptions open us up to akrama, that which is beyond order, that is which is wild, and even transcendent. And, this is yoga. Yoga encompasses the very mundane, orderly, the tidy, the sequenced AND the messy, the wild and “out there.” We are reminded that we are as transcendent as we are mundane. By releasing my tidy routine, I allowed myself to soak in the jungle and to simply be. My bodymind got very relaxed, and this opened me up to some deep insights regarding my own path and personal unfolding. I tapped into my wild and transcendent nature. This was a gift of the jungle.
What’s interesting is that the experience of akrama brings us back to krama. This is spanda, pulsation. We move from order to disorder and back to order. In this way, ritual disruptions serve to deepen order. In a traditional culture, the ritual disturbance allows all the norms to be relaxed completely only to then be strengthened, so that members of the culture go back to revitalized sequences and structures that serve to strengthen the community and their attunement with each other and the natural rhythms.
In the case of my jungle trip, I returned renewed and deeply contented, with a felt experience of the wild, and with a renewed sense of Self in the biggest sort of way. I also came back craving my daily routine! I couldn’t wait to have my morning green smoothie and chia oatmeal, the kind of food that brings my body back to order. I was so happy to crawl onto my yoga mat, content as a cat to stretch my tight muscles, and then to plunge deeply and delightfully into my closed eyes meditation practice. Ah, back to my tidy yoga life once again!
Annie Barrett. Educator, certified health coach yoga instructor.