Finding Discipline When You Feel Lost : Practicing Tapas

“Many of us spend our whole lives running from feeling with the mistaken belief that you can not bear the pain. But you have already borne the pain. What you have not done is feel all you are beyond that pain.” – Kahlil Gibran

If your primary concern over the last few months has been remembering to put pants on before your Zoom meeting or to stop putting the cereal box in the refrigerator, suggesting committing to disciplined actions might feel like an exercise in insanity (or is just down right unnecessary- really, how important are pants anyway?!). Over the last few months we have heard from our students, and experienced within ourselves, a slipping of long formed, disciplined habits – most of which were actually probably necessary to ditch (like commuting to work every day at the same time), but some may have devastating consequences (like losing self-care routines such as yoga in exchange for Netflix binges). This behavior and listlessness (read: pantslessness) is all understandable- we are experiencing collective, expansive grief and trauma so the natural response is to hole up and shut down… but at a certain point, this behavior leads to feeling lost and feeling lost can lead to a deep crevice that the further we crawl down, the harder it is to crawl out, so might we suggest one of yoga’s age old tools to help pull you back to yourself and give you some pep in your step (and maybe even a leg in your pants?). INSERT: TAPAS

(wanna stop right there and reconsider your self-care routine? check this podcast episode! ALSO- the first 5 minutes does not take into account that we are living through a pandemic and likely any stress you are currently dealing with is because of a collective state of trauma and grief we are all navigating and is in NO WAY your fault… this time SUCKS):

It feels hopeless and precarious right now… which is why the practice of tapas at this time is so critical- we need a way to connect back to our power and ultimately to connect back to each other.  So first, let’s define what discipline (tapas) is within the realm of the yoga practice:

Tapas is the practice of sovereignty over our own power. It’s the ability to give yourself back the agency to make meaningful connections in life, to grow into something more and to experience the process of change in a way that you both control and surrender to.

We find tapas amidst all the varied traditions of yoga, most notably in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras as he lists it as a niyama- or a self observation, as well as one of the three recommendations for Kriya yoga practice (tapas- discipline, svadhyaya- study of ancient texts, and isvara pranidhana- surrender to God). In all the traditions, tapas is a means of heat building which is often then explained as disciplined actions to keep us on our spiritual path. Tapas is frequently brought up in the yoga traditions and stems from yoga’s roots with Agni, the god of fire. Agni is a fire god prominently appearing in the Vedas and viewed as a protector of humanity. He is associated with any type of fire building- including digestive fire (in our gut, see Ayurveda for lots on this), ritual fires and sacrifices. He perfectly embodies the recognition that fire is a means of alchemy. That what we use to create the fire (materials like sticks), the byproduct of the fire (heat, ability to cook something, etc.) and the end result (smoke, cooked food, etc.) are all part and parcel of the experience of fire.

So tapas then denotes anything that builds heat, energy and light, and utilizes these resources as a means to transform and reveal more potent byproducts. It’s also significant that fire is something humans uniquely wield and have cultivated throughout our evolution as sentient beings. Tapas then means any practice that helps us use the tools we have to create connections, result in growth and offer an experience within the process of change.

Tapas helps us, through the process of heat building, to unveil our power and connect with something greater than ourselves…

Another definition of tapas I really like is ‘austerity’. Austerity means to burn something down to its purest form. Whenever you engage in a practice of tapas, you are disciplining yourself to reveal higher truths and possibilities. It’s recognizing the pressure and friction will yield a diamond.

What does this mean for me as a modern “trying to put my pants on prior to a Zoom call” yogin? It means committing to actions and processes that are uncomfortable to result in a more powerful means of connecting with ourselves and the world.. and maybe even the Divine. Depending on which yoga lineage you follow will change what tapasya practice you are given… and we’re not here to preach one particular philosophy, but rather to open this concept up for insightful discussion and consideration.

 

So if you are ready to feel a bit more driven again, to tap back into your own personal power and regain some connection with your fellow humans, here’s a modern spin on how to create a tapasya practice for yourself:

  1. Begin with the end in mind – write out a goal or a state of being you hope to accomplish through this process. Example: “I want to feel more alive” or “I want to be able to touch my toes”
  2. Means & Methods  – how will you go about accomplishing this goal? What will it take for you to commit to this? Do you need to research methods first on, say, how to touch your toes? Do you need to seek the help of an expert or read a book or ask your partner for 30 extra minutes of quiet each day? What means and methods do you need to put in place in order to start towards the desired end result?
  3. Consistency is Key – part of the challenge of any disciplined practice is committing to consistent time. Be real with yourself, but be firm. If your goal is to workout every day come hell or high water commit to a time you will do that and do not waver. This is arguably the hardest part, the consistency, but that’s really the key. The challenge of waking up early or committing to a daily time is where a lot of the heat of this practice is built. We LOVE the app ‘Streaks’ to help us with consistency.
  4. Gather Materials – like gathering fire for wood, set up the space or buy the supplies or clean out that room or whatever you need to do to mentally and physically prepare to begin.
  5. Above all, BEGIN – there is no time like the present and there will never be a “perfect time”. You will always find objections to taking time out for yourself or committing to the habit, but Nike yourself and JUST DO IT.
  6. Sacrifice Something – whether it’s at the beginning, middle or end of your journey, choose something to sacrifice. Whether that’s giving up time watching TV or sacrificing your comfort or perhaps it’s acknowledging that at the end you will burn that picture of yourself that makes you feel like shit, whatever it is the sacrifice is part of the alchemy of change. What are you willing to give up or offer up in exchange for transformation?

 

We need to remember now, more than ever, that we are powerful beyond measure. In a time where we feel hopeless and helpless, engaging with our power, struggling with the friction and creating connections with ourselves and each other/ the Divine will help us navigate these murky waters of experience. I hope you read this and feel empowered to start something, or try something again. You deserve to grow and experience yourself both in the process of change and also surrendering to something that’s higher than yourself- even if it’s just the process of touching your toes, it’s more than sitting lifelessly (and pantslessly) in front of your computer wondering what’s going to happen next. Now’s the time to re-engage with yourself and your agency. We believe in you and you deserve the effort.

 

If yoga is a tapas practice that is useful for you- join us on the mat! Our 21/90 program is a great way to challenge yourself to get back to the mat (+ you get $21 off your 4th month if you do it!!)

 

I believe in you! <3 Shan

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