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Abstinence: A tool towards self discovery

With the absence of something, you can have unparalleled gains!

Have you ever tried to control your senses, urges and desires?

Since 2016, through Yogic Sadhana, a spiritual practice, I have been exercising control over many elements of my being and it has been a liberating experience.

As the holy month of Shravan arrives with its divinity and powerful force, along with it, it brings us opportunities. Opportunities to explore the power of self-control in our everyday life. For many centuries humans have been practicing abstinence (the act of restraining from indulging into something with a deep purpose) either for religious purposes, spiritual, personal growth or out of curiosity.

Why do we need abstinence? Because we all are born with limitless emotions and desires. The Hindu theology mentions षड्रिपु ( Shadripu), as the six enemies of the mind as Kama (desire), Krodha (anger), Lobha (greed), Mada (Sense of I), Moha (Attachment), and Matsarya(Partiality). They exist in each of us to various degrees and experience everyday, everywhere. And one way to exercise their presence is by self-control and mindfulness. As much as they act as enemies, they can be our tools to bring balance to our being.

mindfulness, abstinence, meditation and through spiritual practices small or big, people have experienced miraculous changes, I have too.

Here’s how and why!?

1. The important role of our senses

Many of our life decisions are governed by our senses. The aromatic food, the attractive colored clothings, the choice of melodious music and a touch from loved ones contribute to our everyday decision making. But, at the deeper level, senses create urges. The urges operate at various levels and degrees. The senses give rise to emotions. Good and bad. The emotions evoke actions. And practicing abstinence is a means to protect yourself and gain control of your emotions.

2. Abstinence is more than sexual it is a powerful tool!

Abstinence is beyond sexuality and not merely confined to sexual contact. It can be a powerful process to achieve balance and evaluate strengths. It is one of the simplest ways to align your body, mind and soul.

Someone who is willing to quit smoking, or is over drinking may begin recovery starting with the senses itself. Of making decisions against the senses, to control the urges and replace it with healthy behaviors. And it is possible. Addiction is nasty. The person may find himself in an endless loop of being drawn towards it, but also end up feeling guilty, helpless, and shameful and regrets. And one powerful way to release ourselves from unhealthy addictions is to exercise self-control.

For generations, people have been taking care of their body and mind by following basic everyday practices such as eating right, sleeping well, working hard, thinking wise, practicing mindfulness and worshiping nature and relationships. There is a lot of simplicity in these practices but they are deeply powerful if followed consistently, which is now fading with time.

3. Types of Abstinence

Our attention today is divided and we are all deeply distracted. We are drawn towards multiple things all at once. Abstinence is not literal to giving up something- food, alcohol or sexual pleasure. It is an art of taking control of your body and mind. Here are some modern things where we all could exercise abstinence for:
- Abstinence from food:
We are what we eat. Food is a representation of our very own being. Food has immense power to influence the way we think, feel and carry our body.
We may not need to have a lot of food, all we need is good energy. And abstinence teaches us that food is a necessity, to survive. It is a basic need and like a double edged sword. The underlying research behind systematic fasting, of the trending intermittent fasting, portion control is abstinence. Allowing you to control your sugar cravings, limiting overeating, encouraging you to follow your body signals. It is about learning what works for you and making decisions pertaining to your own life, for yourself and not merely for others.
- Abstinence from social media engagement:
A man is all about what he thinks and does the whole day. We all are deeply influenced today. Engaging in social media is a part of the everyday routine. And what we feed our mind, is what we become. Abstinence can be exercised by setting boundaries and being mindful about the levels at which we are engaged with the world outside, the quality of our interaction and the environment we chose to be in.
If social media cannot be avoided, the engagement can be altered- a digital detox! A way to reclaim our own senses, thoughts and perceptions.
- Abstinence from alcohol, drugs and beyond:
It is important to listen to your body's limits. The human mind is complex yet very simple. A habit can take its shape leading to classical addiction due to lack of boundaries and control over the choices. Smoking, substance abuse, and alcoholism are mere effects. Addictions, attachments, exploitations are the reason for not being able to love oneself, for not believing in the life decisions and dreams, for not feeling confident to what one thinks, say or feel. Where one fails to recognize the language of their very own body.
- Abstinence from sexual pleasure:
Abstinence may also adhere to understanding relationships, commitments and realizing boundaries in terms of sexual engagement. Of evaluating worthy relationships, following safety, considering permissions and asking yourself questions before making decisions. The act of abstinence is to hold on to a thought and raise your awareness levels before we make a decision. It is understanding that relationships are deeper than attractions and it is a skill of meaningful exchange. And devoid of communication, the relationship will be futile.
- Abstinence from material needs:
Abstinence helps you to evaluate between your needs and wants. It is about being conscious about our choices, analyzing the reason behind the possessions we all wish to have. Do I need it at this moment? What is the purpose? It isn't about not having materials at all, it is about being conscious and making mature decisions.  

4. The connection of the body and mind:

The body and the mind are deeply connected. Our body loves the idea of routine. And when we follow a system or a habit repeatedly the body identifies it as important. Hence, this tendency is applied for all kinds of habits, good and bad. Our mind listens to us when we firmly instruct it. In order to understand this connection, meditation is one of the strongest methods. Thinking is a process and it begins with all kinds of thoughts. As the thoughts overlap one over another, we feel and experience a range of emotions. And thus it results in actions. Meditation brings you closer to yourself. It helps you evaluate your feelings and helps you make informed decisions. Self control is to understand your own thought process, the triggers and alter hasty decisions. It makes you calmer. The idea of abstinence is to gain this sense of control of our minds, of our mighty emotions and replace the unhealthy routines or thoughts with the healthy ones.

5. Sadhana - Liberate from the maya that leads to suffering!

“In mindfulness one is not only restful and happy, but alert and awake. Meditation is not evasion; it is a serene encounter with reality.” - Thich Nhat Haan

The values of Buddhism are profound. And Vipassana which means “to see things as they really are” is rooted in the Theravāda Buddhism. Known as one of the oldest meditation techniques, the concept has always been surrounded with curiosity. Meditation has been an integral part of my everyday life for a few years now. As I started learning, I found myself being open to challenges.

Vipassana for me is all about experiencing your whole being. It helps you evolve through your thoughts and beyond. A journey to know more about your more about my body and mind.

What Vipassana Taught Me?

In 2009-10, I attended the Vipassana Retreat which brought me closer to the concept of abstinence, the power of self-control and the art of aligning our body and mind.

It is to what people say, is a spiritual pilgrimage.

A few powerful insights amongst many others;

  • The Vipassana retreat allows you to practice abstinence in systematic ways.
  • The practice of Mauna Vrata is a gateway towards the energy that resides within us. When you do not speak at all, you listen more. We save the energy for a greater deed. Realizing the power of speech on the 11th day, you are wiser and embrace mindfulness like never before.
  • The practice of Mauna Vrata is a gateway towards the energy that resides within us. When you do not speak at all, you listen more. We save the energy for a greater deed. Realizing the power of speech on the 11th day, you are wiser and embrace mindfulness like never before.
  • It allows you to set goals and work towards them on a transformational journey between learning and unlearning.
  • One of the major awakenings through my time at the retreat was that we all need very less to survive. And what we know about our own self is just the tip of the iceberg. We are a lot more capable and deeper as individuals.

6. Small everyday practices for you!

The greatness of the Gita lies in integrating spirituality in everyday activities of life. Lord Krishna never believed in isolated spiritualism. The journey of abstinence will be more fulfilling and unstoppable if you understand its effectiveness towards your everyday living. Various religious festivities encourage fasting, of giving up certain practices or embracing some for specific periods. The idea behind these customs is to regain your control and achieve balance. Abstinence is a journey and one can begin by evaluating and identifying the habits or practices one wants to get rid of, one step at a time. The process begins with celebrating small wins and by setting short goals. Giving up smoking is doable, the consumption of alcohol can be stopped, embracing healthy habits is possible.

Mindfulness is a way of life. And awareness is everything. By giving up certain practices, we can add on so much to our being. Our body is receptive and expressive in nature, we simply have to listen and observe it more closely.

If we do not control our senses, they will control us. Let our senses be our strengths and not weaknesses. The month of shravan has begun Govern Your Body Take Control Make Choices Embrace Life!

‘The effort never goes to waste, and there is no failure.  Even a little effort toward spiritual awareness will protect you from the greatest fears.’- The Bhagavad Gita

Even a small step can be a beginning to something great. A timeout with yourself, setting up small goals, engaging yourself in mindfulness meditation can be some of the ways to begin. Here is a way to mindfulness meditation with a wholesome experience through our app, loved by many.

Ms. Ekktaa Daithankar is a Vedic Astrologer, Life & Relationship Coach and a Multidisciplinarian Consultant. Along with her expertise in astrological sciences, she is a follower and an advocate of spirituality and importance of Indian culture as important tools towards self-growth. With more than a decade of experience and various national and international accolades for her immense contribution, she is a staunch believer that the power is within.

Read more about her work here: ADD LINKS