Marking the beginning of Lent, the traditional Christian season of penance and purification, Ash Wednesday is a day lenten_ashes1the Church sets aside for the renewal of and recommitment to one`s spiritual practice. So, today I went off to church to have my forehead smeared with ashes, and to kick-start a new sadhana.  It occurred to me last week that Lent was just around the corner, and that it would be an auspicious time to commit to some deeper practices.

Lent lasts 40 days, from Ash Wednesday to Easter Saturday (the 6 Sundays in Lent are considered feast days, and so are not counted.) In the yoga tradition, special spiritual practices are also often undertaken for 40 days–a lovely correspondance. Historically, dietary restrictions form a big part of the lenten observances. For my part, I will be abstaining from all meat, dairy and eggs, as well as wheat, and focus more on whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables. The main reason for this is digestive health–a sort of internal spring cleaning, if you will. (I will have to resist giving into the urge to eat nothing but rice noodles for 6 weeks–the pull is strong.)

Also, I am making some changes to my daily yoga practice, again, with the invaluable help & wisdom of my sweet Ana Pilar.   Since my main focus for this period is to deepen and lengthen my meditation practice, the focus of my asana practice will be the strengthening of my outer thighs, which (in theory) will allow me to sit with ease for longer periods of time.  Ana P suggested poses with a strong balancing element which I link into a vigorous flow that creates a lot of heat in the body. And leads to the next new aspect of my morning yoga practice: chanting a line from the Yoga Sutras, book 2, verse 1:

Tapas (heat or zeal), Swadhyaya (study of self, scriptures & nature) and Isvara-Pranidhana (surrender to God) are the acts of Yoga.

This Sutra is a great prescription for the spiritual life, one that, in my very shallow forays into studying this root text of Yoga, I’ve always had an affinity for.  I am excited about the deeper layers of meaning I am sure to uncover as I spend the next several weeks chanting this Sutra–also, I am looking forward to a stronger core  and quadriceps as a result of all those repetitions of Utkatasana!

It’s been a great good day so far. I was excited to get to my mat this morning, then baked muffins after practice (Almond Quinoa muffins from this book–subbed spelt flour for the wheat), and now I am writing away at Tantra, our local hippified coffee shop. I will be making rice with red lentils and onions for dinner (from the same book mentioned above) with kale from the garden on the side. A wonderful start to Lent!