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The Discomfort of Evolution: Yamas, Niyamas…and Arugula.

Photo: Flickr/timlewisnm

I experienced an intense epiphany this morning at breakfast, which consisted of a half-caff americano, a Portguese custard tart and a giant bowl of arugula, dusted with lemon juice—a winning combination indeed!

This particular arugula was a more fully developed and mature than the typical baby arugula found in commercial outlets and restaurants. These greens, from Sunshine was the spiciest arugula I have ever tasted.

Being an herbalist, I am no stranger to bitter and pungent medicine…but this experience took things to another level. It was so hot that my eyes began to water! Outstanding! I actually had to take breaks between bites to allow my tongue to calm down.

Besides the party in my mouth, there were many other steps in the chain reaction caused by this strong stimulus. Digestion tends to be my weak area physiologically, so it’s always a thrill to feel things kick into high gear as they did during my spicy arugula adventure.

Digestive function is like any other muscle or organ system in the body. Without use, these systems atrophy. It’s the cliché “if you don’t use it, you lose it” rule. Unfortunately, we have culturally grown to prefer things to be bland. Bland food, priorities and emotional connections with others, through the widespread use of technologically advanced communication. We prioritize comfort—and bland is comfortable.

The problem is, bland and comfortable often produce stagnation. Physical stagnation (i.e digestion), emotional stagnation, spiritual stagnation. Our evolution is often our greatest source of discomfort because true growth usually requires it.

This morning, my belly was so happy after the arugula stimulation but eating it was like a workout. There were many moments when I had to breathe, focus and push through in order to finish. I did so because I am aware that if we don’t challenge our digestive systems on a regular basis, if we don’t regularly consume foods that inspire scrunched up faces, our digestive fire will become stagnant.

With this theme in mind, I reflect on my two weeks, spent with Pat Harada Linfoot, studying the yamas and niyamas, in the context of asana and beyond. These were typical Pat-style classes, which are physically challenging, even for the advanced practitioners. In addition, Pat shaped the theme of each class around a different principle of the yamas and niyamas. Ethics and the practices that accompany them are not comfortable subjects to sit with, especially during a physically challenging practice. But that, for me, is the essence of my yoga practice: intentionally putting myself in states of discomfort for the sake of my evolution.

Each of Pat’s classes over the two weeks were masterfully woven. She has an undeniable gift for inspiring her students to take steps toward discomfort as she holds a safe space, expertly accented with warmth, love and humor. The most challenging day for me was day seven of our journey, when we studied the subject of Santosha (contentment).

This was my Facebook post after class that day: “Day seven into my journey through the yamas and niyamas: today our practice focused on Santosha—contentment. My wise teacher spoke of balance with contentment as we must live in a state of discontentment in order to affect change. How do we cultivate a deep satisfaction with things, exactly as they are, but still maintain our desire for evolution?”

I still have trouble sitting with this one.

What I have learned through practicing yoga, studying philosophy and eating intense arugula, is that I am not willing to live a bland life.

I have a desire for evolution and I am prepared to experience discomfort for the sake of growth. It’s what we do every time we roll out our mats. We are practicing grace, focus, humility and compassion for ourselves in uncomfortable circumstances. I think that is much more exciting than exercising for the sake of a six-pack!

Immense gratitude to Pat—I feel so blessed to have such incredible inspiration in my life.


Written by Michelle Stevenson

“Every day is an opportunity to make our lives medicinal. What we do, eat, feel, breathe, give, love, share. Medicine is not only the pills we take (or don’t take)—it’s how we live. How we collaborate. How we inspire. How we teach others and how we teach ourselves. That’s my life, my medicine. My nerdy herbal, healing foodie, acupuncturist, yogini, musician, seamstress, wool wizardress, student/teacher, wonderwoman medicine. I’m the creation of my own ideal physician!” Michelle Stevenson is a medical herbalist and acupuncturist.

Visit her blog at or connect with her on Facebook.

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