This has been the hardest post to write so far. A lot has happened in the past, seemingly uneventful few weeks. My eyes are brighter and my mind calmer, but putting the process into words is tough.
In fact, I found it so challenging, that I considered not writing about it, but as this program has taught me, if it’s challenging, it’s probably worth doing.
Throughout this post I will talk about my experience of an adapted version of Baron Baptiste’s 40 day Program, led by The House of Yoga in Putney, although I am sure there are many others worth doing and discussing.
I had always been a bit wary of so called ‘programs’ which involve a commitment to a certain diet and lifestyle. I used to think that they were not sustainable and was convinced that old habits would come back with a vengeance.
It’s only been a week since I completed the Program, but I can feel a fundamental change in myself and I can say with conviction, that I am not the same person I was 7 weeks ago.
So what does the program entail?
Probably the most daunting yet appealing aspect for most. Perhaps because it’s ‘easy’ to understand and therefore easier to ‘control’, in theory.
We were advised to give things up gradually, starting by decreasing our consumption if the thought of giving up was too overwhelming.
Caffeine first, this caused a lot of unrest in our first meeting. ‘How?!’ I overheard one of the participants whisper.
Sugar and alcohol were next on the worst offenders list – another topic for controversy.
Meat, dairy and finally eggs and fish would, ideally, not be part of our diet by the end of the Program.
The Program started on a Saturday, coincidentally, this was my family’s yearly reunion in Paris. The plan was to get together at my uncle’s, where we would have champagne and ‘Galette des Rois’, a Marzipan sweet treat to celebrate the 3 Wise Men. Followed by an ‘apero’ at my cousin’s – Wine or beer and a selection of cheeses and charcuterie, with the occasional olive and/or cherry tomato. The menu did not quite fit in with my dietary requirements so I decided to start the Program a day later than everyone. And I am glad I did.
I am all for committing to ‘something’ but I’ve also learnt that part of this practice is knowing when to ‘break the rules’.
From the second day onward I decided to give up sugar, alcohol and meat, which I still haven’t reintroduced to my diet.
Most struggled with the lack of caffeine, while I empathised with my fellow yogis as I had now quit over a year and kept vivid memories of my first week of withdrawal.
I’d previously given up sugar; the first time was very hard. This time, my body remembered and I cruised through my refined-sugar-free / fruit-packed afternoons.
However, I was adamant that I wouldn’t even try to give up dairy or eggs and fish. I was convinced that I needed animal protein to sustain my active lifestyle. As the program went on, my mind opened to new ways of thinking, and I eventually tried to diminish my consumption and managed 10 consecutive days without eggs and dairy. Surprisingly, my energy levels did not slump and I didn’t notice the much feared ‘muscle loss’ that concerned me.
The three day cleanse which we did in the middle of the 40 days was the most challenging part of the nutrition for me, but a real eye opener! Especially in retrospect (separate post on my blog ‘Diaries of a Detox’).
I think this is the aspect which fewest participants were familiar with. Some even admitted they had little intention of trying, but I think everyone tried and we were all astounded by the effects.
The guidelines were: 5mins in the morning, and in the evening, every day during the 1st week, increasing the duration every week until we would be meditating 1 hour daily during the 6th week.
Having meditated before, I wasn’t worried about the meditation itself, though I was a bit concerned about making that much time for it every day.
One evening during the 5th week, I was about to go to bed when I told my bf I had to meditate. He was very understanding and supportive during the whole program, but when he realised I’d be meditating for 25 minutes, he laughed and said ‘that’s as long as your commute! I’m going to bed’ and sure enough, half way through my meditation, I heard him snoring which did make me laugh.
So yes, I had to dig into my sleeping time in order to be able to fit in meditation daily, but the results were worth it. I noticed myself growing calmer and more grounded. A colleague even took the time to call me to congratulate me on the way I had handled a difficult situation. Feeling calmer was one thing, but others noticing it too made it tangible.
I also noticed an increase in my creativity, waking up at 5am on various occasions, my mind flowing with ideas that I had to write down.
Asana (Yoga physical practice):
We were advised to practice at the studio 5 days a week and once at home. The most important instruction for this aspect of the program is to listen to your body. When you are practicing daily, it is essential to learn to modify poses when your body needs it, also practicing more restorative styles of yoga like Yin or even Nidra.
I normally practice 3-4 times a week,but during these 6 weeks I learnt to practice in a different way, listening to my body better than ever before.
I’d never been too keen on self-practice, I liked being guided, sometimes even switching off a little. During these past weeks I have grown to enjoy the freedom of being my own teacher, sometimes entering a trance like state as my body and my breath move in unison.
We were advised to write every day, even if just a word. I really enjoyed this aspect of the program and I am already looking at my notes, noticing that I didn’t always feel as I remembered feeling.
We were encouraged to aim to have 8 hours of sleep every night. I’m normally an early riser and go to bed early, but having to add more activities in my day, sleep was the first aspect to suffer.
It was good to aim for 8 hours though, as it made me focus on how many hours I was getting nightly.
Group meetings and Self-inquiry:
Every Thursday evening we were invited to attend a weekly meeting.
I looked forward to each gathering. This was an opportunity to spend a couple of hours with a group of people I have grown to respect, during which we could talk openly about everything and anything.
The group meetings were also the time for self-inquiry. Every week we were given questions to think about and we shared our answers within our smaller groups.
I tried to find a way to describe the purpose of the questions but I have decided to quote Baron instead ‘The excavation questions are meant to just bring to your awareness the beliefs, ideas and scenarios in your life that are holding you back. There is nothing for you to figure out and nothing for you to do with the answers that arise other than simply to become conscious of and clarify them so that you can ultimately let them go‘ (40 Days to Personal Revolution, Baron Baptiste p.60)
The weekly excavation questions were based on the theme of the week, but had one common denominator, they were the kind of questions we don’t ask ourselves.
In my opinion, this aspect of the program is what makes it so life changing. Because we are faced with our reality and our eyes are opened to the fact that we are masters of our lives.
Asking ourselves these kind of difficult questions is hard; sharing the answers openly with others can be incredibly challenging. Declaring affirmations to a group makes us accountable and it is sometimes what we need in life to commit to our dreams, no matter how big or small they may be.
When faced with such challenging questions it is important to feel supported, which is why relationships and, what I can already envisage as life-long friendships, are built during these 6 weeks.
As the program came to an end I had mixed emotions. I was proud of myself and my fellow yogis, but I didn’t want it end. I felt a bit uneasy at the thought of not having any rules. Would I have the discipline to continue my new found habits?
Well, it’s only been a week, but I have continued to meditate 15mins daily, I haven’t eaten any refined sugar, despite the beautifully presented cakes at the little café I visited on Sunday morning. I also haven’t found any interest in eating meat or drinking alcohol, but I imagine it might come with time, but am not holding my breath.
The list is long, but if I had to take only one lesson away from these 40 days, it would be: ‘Whenever I feel like I’ve got it all figured out, I must start all over again.’
As I come to the end of this post (at last, I hear you say) I am pleased that I persevered, despite a discouraging start of virtually throwing scrunched up blank pages into an imaginary bin basket.
Finally, I’d like to use this space to thank the 52 participants of this program, your authenticity and perseverance have inspired me in so many ways. I also want to thank Emma and Casey, the facilitators of this program, who created a safe space for us all, giving us structure and ideas for every aspect of the program while always encouraging us to try things for ourselves.