April 1, 2013 § 16 Comments

Kitchari with greens and sprouts and avocado.

Kitchari with greens and sprouts and avocado.

And the day came when the risk it took to stay tight in a bud was greater than the risk it took to blossom. – Anais Nin

Last week I began an Ayurvedic, 21-day group cleanse with one of my favorite and most influential yoga teachers, Laura Plumb. I realize that a cleanse is not blogworthy or even very interesting. And yet, I have always had such a strange relationship with both food and cleanses that have nothing to do with either food or cleanses*.

Ayurveda is a sister science to yoga and I could say a lot about it that may or may not be accurate, but basically, it’s about living closer to nature, eating foods that are in season, and practicing ways of being in harmony with natural rhythms, like getting up at sunrise and winding down at sunset. It’s very simple.

And yet, simple doesn’t mean easy, at least for me. During the first seven days of the cleanse, we eliminated coffee, sugar, alcohol, dairy, wheat, and meat. I don’t eat meat or much dairy or wheat, but still, without sugar or coffee or a glass of wine on those “hard days” I thought I was going to die. “When you want to reach for the sugar or the wine, or the coffee, ask yourself, who are you without the sugar or the coffee or the wine?” Laura asked us all on our group phone call and I didn’t like the answers: sad, overwhelmed, burned out, bored, frustrated, irritated. I just want to be happy and peaceful all the time and it feels wrong to have any other emotion elbow its way in and plop itself down.

I have written before about cleanses, about how, for me,  it’s never about what I am giving up but what I’ve already lost. It’s about rolling up my sleeves and finally looking at the original wound, at the ways I was torn apart at the seams and the clumsy methods I used to patch myself together: an extra glass of wine, a pot of coffee at 3 pm, those five chocolate chips eaten with my eyes closed, standing in a corner of the kitchen. A cleanse for me is less about what I’m eating and more about removing the tight and messy stitches. It’s about looking into the open gash, the jagged scar, the emptiness in my heart that has nothing to do with the hunger in my belly.

One girl in our group posted so beautifully and honestly to our Facebook page about why she wanted to do the cleanse:

“I have begun to notice the ways that I outsource for guidance, minimize my own power, and fog-out when things become uncomfortable. Food is a major outsource for me and I want to reclaim the power of my body and what I put into it.”

I could completely relate.

Since I began teaching yoga less than a year ago, I’ve been profoundly aware of the ways in which I am not living my practice and the way I eat is one of them. For the most part, I eat a healthy, mostly plant-based diet. Except, when something tough happens and I outsource, mostly to chocolate. About a month ago, when I had my students move into pigeon pose, I felt like a fraud. I was instructing them to feel their way into their breath and then breathe their way into their feelings, inhale by inhale. And yet, in my own life, I was jumping ship when the sensations became too strong.

Last week, I read Anais Nin’s famous quote at the beginning of class when everyone was in child’s pose: And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom. In class we did a lot of “blossoming” poses: vashistasana (side plank), ardha chandrasana (half moon), garudhasana (eagle) and then unwinding. Most of the people who come to my class are beginners, older woman, or young Marines with back and knee and hip injuries so I always give plenty of modifications. We do planks with knees down, side plank with the top leg in front, sole of the foot on the ground. Even so, I watched them stumble and struggle and sigh and giggle and then try again on the other side without a moment of hesitation. Tears filled my eyes and my heart ached with how fearless they all were, how remarkably vulnerable.

In pigeon pose, I had planned to talk more about unfolding, about being open, about blossoming, but it just felt all wrong. Instead, I shared something Rolf Gates had said in our teacher training, something that I didn’t really fully understand until I watched my own class so gamely lift their hands and hearts to the sky. “When I think back to all of my constricted states, all those times I was jealous or angry or afraid,” Rolf told us, “I realize that I needed all of those constricted states in order to truly open.”

As everyone folded into pigeon pose, blankets under their bums, I shared what Rolf had said and how exhausting it can sometimes be to be constantly told to unfurl! dream big! blossom! transform! grow! shift! evolve! When we look at the life cycle of a flower, how many days does it spend deep underground, coiled up, curled tight? Maybe the same is true for ourselves. Maybe we’re allowed days or even seasons of being colorless, tight, and protected; angry, jealous, and afraid. Sad, overwhelmed, burned out, bored. In the yoga DVD I do some mornings, Baron Baptiste says, “We can’t force a rose to open. We’ll just break off the petals.” And yet, how often do I do that to myself?

Spring isn’t for the faint of heart. Cleanses aren’t for punks. Learning how to open takes time. Sometimes it takes fear and anger and jealousy. Sometimes, it takes chocolate. Mostly it takes sunlight and warmth, kindness and true nourishment. For me, it seems to take a cleanse, a bare-bones diet and a balls to the wall process of self-inquiry and truth telling.

This week, as I started my (surprisingly delicious) mono-diet of kitchari and greens (and the dates I can’t quite do without yet), I walked outside and was stopped in my tracks at the tulips poking their green shoots through the dirt in my front garden, effectively giving the finger to my neighbor who said they wouldn’t grow. Yes! I said, doing a fist pump. Yes!



Kate is the winner of last week’s giveaway! I selected the winner through

* I want to emphasize how important it is to do a cleanse with guidance and NOT to do a cleanse solely as a way to lose weight or to punish yourself for overindulging. Also, stay away from those ghastly Master Cleanses!


§ 16 Responses to Clean

  • AP says:

    I love this, I have been exploring my relationship with food and starting changing my habits but I loved what you said bout who you would be without the wine/chocolate. Oh all of those words relate! As a person who has pushed herself mentally and physically in the last few years your words about allowing ourselves to curl up and not stretch out we’re also powerful. Sometimes I have to remind myself that its not a weakness or a failure but exactly what I should be doing at that exact time. A lovely post to read as I wake and force green tea instead of my usual strong coffee….

  • Kate says:

    i’m sort of giddy with the rightness of your cleanse reaction… and the hard and hungry work goes on…
    am i the kate? i live on ‘blossom road’, so it would be suitably ironic… 🙂

  • santie says:

    Pamela, I so often find resonance in your posts. Thank you for your honesty and your kindness.
    Could you please recomend a few good joga dvd’s? I use Iyengar’s light on yoga, to plan my solo practise, but I would like to do a guided practice as well. I haven’t found the right teacher yet, but I haven’t given up.

    • Pamela says:

      Hi Santie. Great question! I think anything by Rolf Gates, Seane Corn, Baron Baptiste, and Bryan Kest and Annie Carpenter are fantastic. However, what I think is even better is There is a 15 day free trial now and how it works is that you “subscribe” for $20 a month and have access to tons of different classes from gentle to power, 30 to 90 minutes. All the teachers are safe and well-known instructors and you can customize your yoga class by the day.

  • email me, dear friend.

  • Laura Plumb says:

    You are so amazing. You just turn everything to poetry. Can I post this on our forum?

  • Pamela, Even as I brush a few dark chocolate crumbs from my yoga pants, I’m completely inspired by this post. Just looked up Laura Plumb’s website and am seriously thinking about enrolling in her 3 week April cleanse. I love how you acknowledge both how hard it is AND how good it is to confront ourselves this way.

  • Kim Kaminski says:

    Pam, thank you for capturing the journey so eloquently. I’m honored to be on this journey with you!

  • This idea of outsourcing through food is a revelation to me, as your words and ideas so often are. Thank you for this post. xo

  • Wolf Pascoe says:

    Sing on, o muse of cleansing!

  • Alana says:

    Finally reading this, with tears in my eyes. Yes. Just yes.

  • It is so difficult to remember that we are like flowers and like so much of nature – we need the time to relax, at a very soul level, and just be in order to fully bloom.

  • This is so, so beautiful and it was just what I needed to hear today. Thank you for taking the time to put it in writing and share it with all of us. I love the image of yanking the rose open too soon, and I love this: “When I think back to all of my constricted states, all those times I was jealous or angry or afraid,” Rolf told us, “I realize that I needed all of those constricted states in order to truly open.” Yes, yes, a million times, yes.

  • Rae says:

    found this to be incredibly relevant and helpful. had never really thought about the outsourcing of feelilngs to food before and love thinking about a cleanse as time to tune in rather than to deprive.

  • Angela Gunn says:

    Ah Pam. I read this today after it sitting in my inbox for weeks of me trying to evolve and not being ready. As always, you said exactly what i needed to hear. I am so impatient to be fully formed already, and yet that is not the point. I’m learning slowly, but surely and your posts always add that little extra I’ve had missing from the dialogue surrounding these changes. Thank you.


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