In past newsletters we looked at yoga beyond the Asana, or physical practice; noting that the Asana is only one element of the 8 limb path outlined in the yoga sutras; a path that has the potential to lead us to Samadhi - a state in which we uncover our true nature and discover our true self, beyond our ego; finding our true essence. So although the Asana practice is one limb of the path to Samadhi, it is not the first, or even the second. The first limb of our path is the Yamas, the foundation of our ethical behavior. The Yamas help bring us closer to truth by teaching us through our relationships with others. To learn more about the Yamas, read past editions of our Blog below. In the coming months I will be exploring the Niyamas, the second limb, five internal practices or observances that help provide self-discipline and inner strength to further our journey on the yogic path on an individual level.
This newsletter focuses on the third Niyama, Tapas - Burning Spiritual Passion or Self Discipline. As many of us know, there are some days when it’s just hard to get out of bed. As the days have gotten shorter, the sun is rising later, our motivation may begin to dim as well, making it difficult to keep our inner fire burning. That internal flame that motivates us is our Tapas, a Sanskrit word that means fire or to burn. It is our self motivation, the creator of our dreams, the push behind our goals! It is what draws us to our mat, even on those days where we are too tired, have "more important" things to do, or simply feel unmotivated and apathetic.
It is important in our yoga practice to choose a path and spiritual practice to follow. It is through our Niyamas, internal practices and observances that we continue to grow on this journey. For Tapas, this might include meditating, breath work, and/or an asana practice. All of these will have differing importance to each individual, but it is through Tapas, finding what lights that internal fire, what keeps us driven and dedicated, that we then lay out a plan for ourselves, and through discipline that we receive the benefits of a yogic life.
According to Patanjali, dedication to our yoga practice helps to transcend our karma. It enables us to endure pain and suffering without victimizing ourselves; realizing that part of the practice is being willing to embrace difficult situations, painful emotions, uncomfortable circumstances as a means to grow. For the modern day yogi, this may be challenging. Other obligations, commitments, passing whims arise. Through our Tapas, we realize that we need to stay true to ourselves and our practice; not dismissing it or belittling its importance. We can sit back for a moment and lay out a reasonable plan of how often to practice and for how long, whether it is daily, weekly, or somewhere in between. And then stick to that plan, no matter what. And as your Tapas begins to grow, the flames are fanned, your commitment, desire and dedication grow, so will your discipline.
While on your mat you may find that some days you create a lot of heat very quickly in your yoga practice. These are most likely days that you are fully present and focused. On another day, with a very similar practice, you may find your body remains cool and heart beat slow. Perhaps on this day you are simply going through the motions. When your instructor is consistently encouraging you to link breath and movement, find your ujayi breath, create that internal fire, it is to help you find Tapas; for when your mind, body, and breath are fully connected, your body heat feels much different than in a disconnected practice. The heat created through self-discipline in our yoga practice helps to nourish the body, ignite passion in the soul and create a sense of power, strength, self love and compassion! And what happens when you struggle? When the teacher guides you into that pose you despise, that you resist, that you dismiss? The simple fact that you have shown up, immersed yourself in your practice and, although reluctantly, allow the teacher to guide you to those places you may not choose to go on your own; being present, staying focused and putting all you have into that one single activity or thought, in that given moment, that is Tapas!
We can find Tapas off the mat as well. As you move through the remainder of the week, try to find Tapas in your life. Despite the busyness of the Thanksgiving Holiday, gathering of friends and family, meal prep, eating WAY too much, shopping for those deals and napping, see if you can find yourself, guide yourself or simply allow yourself to be completely immersed in an activity. Fully present in mind, body and breath. So present that you feel the heat, the fire, the passion, the energy that supports you, excites you, motivates you! Maybe you will find this on your yoga mat, or running a Turkey Day 5K, writing in your journal, reading to a child, teaching a recipe to your daughter/son. Outside of my yoga practice I have been focusing on finding that self discipline in my eating and sleeping habits. At times a stumble, but I don't lose focus. I have my goals set, I try my best not to be fickle and I work hard to not be overly self-indulgent. As for this weekend, I will find Tapas, feel that passion, that heat around my heart, the dedication, and discipline to be completely present, when I am with my children...grateful to all be under one roof! While it is happening, I will not be thinking about Tapas I will be so deeply immersed in the moment. It will be later, as a quiet reflection, a passing thought, a realization that I am blessed, this is when I'll know!
Happy Thanksgiving and many blessings to you all!