With January upon us, many have understandably embarked on new resolutions in a bid to improve our lives and be better people. After all, the new year is a great time to reflect on the changes we want to see in our lives. All noble intentions, no doubt. Alas, how many of us manage to see our resolutions through to December? Or even to the end of January??
There is nothing easy about forging a new routine. Getting out of bed before the rest of the world just to show up for yoga class can sometimes seem absolutely bonkers and you wonder why you ever enthusiastically booked a mat for 6.30 AM. Later in the day, you feel guilty about having copped out of early morning yoga class and try again; you make another booking only to regret it the next morning. The cycle continues until you finally give up and there goes your new year’s resolution.
Within the second limb of Patanjali’s Ashtanga (Eight limbs) yoga, exists the concept of tapas. Tapas translates to, not a type of Spanish cuisine, but self-discipline, effort or purification. It is the force that motivates you to get on the mat on a regular basis, whether you feel like it or not. In short, it is passion and commitment towards the practice that you have chosen. It is the faith that it will bring you a world of good whether you can readily observe it or not.
The huge challenge in developing a consistent practice is that little voice in your head that tells you to just skip it because staying in bed is a much more comfortable option. Developing the habit of tapas within you makes things simple by removing these options/excuses from the table. It will give you the strength to rise above these temptations because of the commitment you made to yourself to show up.
Without tapas, no progress can be made. Because no one can do the yoga for you. And no one can do the internal work for you. And yoga cannot be learned by reading about it. It has to be done. By you. And this also applies to every other aspect of life.
On a deeper level, tapas is described as the heat and fire borne out of consistency, discipline and dedication. Any pains that one feels as a result of practice represent energetic blockages that can be burned away through continued mindful practice. In time and when the body is ready, these blockages will dissolve, taking the practitioner one layer closer to their true potential. Going through this process may cause strange things to happen on the mat. Crying, laughing, tempers flaring.
Of course, observing tapas is in no way asking you to obsess over your practice to the point of injury. Neither is it asking you to push past extreme pain that is trying to tell you slow down or ease off. All it asks is for you to respect yourself enough to take yourself to task and attend to the things you have decided are good for you. The moment you decide that a certain thing no longer serves your needs, then it is time to stop. Pursue wise effort; not forceful effort.
Needless to say, challenges abound when in the process of creating something new in your life. The ego will resist it for sure. It requires one to step out of one’s comfort zone and face various obstacles in the form of waking up early, being made to do poses that are uncomfortable, battling with your own mind when it tells you that you are too stiff or weak or somehow not enough.
In today’s culture of instant gratification and information, the point of observing tapas is getting more difficult to grasp; especially since it calls for steady and regular practice with pretty much no guarantee of any outcome/goal. Why would anyone want to subject themselves to that? If only they knew that consistent and dedicated effort, when done right, will eventually result in mastery over the physical and psychological self.
Once upon a time, my fascination with yoga led me to wish that I could skip ahead several years to the point where I was already an ‘advanced’ practitioner. I wanted to be at that stage where getting on my mat everyday had become a habit. Habit suggests a routine of behavior that tends to occur unconsciously. But tapas goes beyond just habit. Tapas requires to you make a conscious choice every day to get on the mat even if your emotions are telling you otherwise. It calls upon you to honor your own word to yourself.
So, if you have been meaning to get back on the bandwagon and start/restart getting on the mat, I do hope this has given you some food for thought on what drives dedicated practitioners or anyone with a passion for a certain thing, not just yoga.
‘Willpower is nothing but willingness to do’ – BKS Iyengar
Ashtanga Yoga Teacher
Art of Yoga
5 January 2015