Limits

by Frank Martin

Writing about essentials yesterday, and the comment on that post got me thinking about limits. Culturally we don’t seem to like them much, as evidenced by the “you can do anything” meme. To the contrary, I’ve found limits are an incredibly powerful tool that ends up being freeing and energizing. In yoga there’s a practice called Tapas, or Tapasya, Sanskrit for heat (not to be confused with the tasty Spanish small plates). Tapas is the practice of spiritual discipline including limiting food intake, stimulation by the senses, and activity. While I don’t practice this nearly as strictly as I could, I have found it’s still a useful tool.

Being geek one might assume I spend hours on end on the computer, and I have on occasion. However, I’ve found less time, spent in a more focused way is much more enjoyable and leads to more getting done (also I actually have a bit of a tan). I limit myself to two or three hours a day done in short chunks. During each chunk I have one or maybe two things I want or need to do, and if I get them done before the chunk (usually a half hour) is over, I get up from the computer for at least a half hour and go do something else.

Taking a tech sabbath can be a great way to take some time off and hit the metaphorical reset button. Generally speaking this happens about once a week, for at least the entire morning, sometimes the entire day. Its a practice that offers an opportunity to get grounded, reconnect with family, friends, the giant ball of flaming gas that keeps us all alive. The first couple times it was worrisomely difficult, but the more often I do it, the easier and more enjoyable this practice gets.

Tapas also manifests around food in two ways, the first being the fact I eat less than the average american, generally a small breakfast with a snack mid-morning, a medium to large lunch, mid-afternoon snack, and a medium to small dinner. Doing this has been an extremely enlightening practice, as I’ve noticed I tend to be a grazer, ie I’ll have three square meals and then nibble on stuff off and on throughout the day. Limiting eating to five times a day is a great way to learn that we really don’t need to eat as much as we think to be active and healthy.

The second connection between Tapas and food is diet. Though I eat very limited amounts of meat and seafood, I don’t eat red meat, and I’m mostly vegetarian verging on vegan. I don’t come from a tradition that mandates vegetarianism, but my root teacher is, and I’ve found that eliminating meat and dairy from my diet has had a powerful positive effect on my practice and life in general. I’m more attentive to what I put in my body than most, which really isn’t a bad thing when you get right down to it. Best of all, going out to eat is incredibly easy! But all jokes aside, even if the moral/ethical animal cruelty reasons don’t appeal to you, give it a shot for a couple days and see how much more energy you have and how much better you feel.

These simple changes have had some serious positive effects. Eliminating screen time before about nine in the morning and after seven in the evening means my mornings are calmer, slower and more enjoyable, not being in front of a screen right up until I go to bed has greatly improved the quality of sleep I’ve been getting at night, and limiting tech usage during the day has meant I’m outside more, more physically active, and more productive when I am on the computer (though I am admittedly imperfect.) Going mostly vegetarian vegan has left me healthier, more energetic, and along with tech restrictions, has greatly improved my sleep. If you haven’t already, I highly recommend you try limiting either or both. The results might just surprise you!

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