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Have I lost you? Don’t quit on me yet sweet readers – there’s interesting stuff in these Sutras!
As I’ve been freezing my ass-ana off in Philadelphia’s single-digit temperatures and willing myself to go outside and shovel snow off my perfectly capable four-wheel drive to attend one of the tougher yoga classes in my weekly class lineup after a monster snowfall two days ago, I’m digging down deep for that inner discipline I know resides within me. But OH – the cozy fireplace and iPad keep sabotaging my well-intentioned plans.
Time to elicit the help of the Yoga Sutras. More often than not, when I’m in a jam, I go back and review the first two limbs of the 8-limbed path I had to read to complete my 200- hour yoga certification. These two limbs – the Yamas and the Niyamas, are restraints and observances to abide by to enjoy a healthy and happy life – and to me, are totally applicable to modern day challenges and in accordance with whatever faith you practice.
At the time of my teacher training, before I built up a teaching and practice schedule that takes a high degree of energy and inspiration to maintain, I simply sped-read through texts, regurgitated what I needed to know on the final exam, and stuffed the book on a dusty shelf. Yoga philosophy? Nah, I can get by on my naturally energetic disposition and anatomy knowledge to get me through.
Until I started teaching…
It didn’t take but a few classes to recognize I desperately needed to draw upon the wisdom and practices of yogis before me to grow as a teacher, student, and mortal human being trying to make sense of this crazy world.
Which brings me to Tapas. Tapas, in the Sutras, is often referred to as an ‘inner fire’, or ‘self-discipline’, or ‘effort’. Part of the collective five Niyamas, or lifestyle observances, Tapas reminds us the importance of doing the work. Maintaining a sense of discipline to stay on our path – whatever that path may be. My chosen path has its share of boulders and hidden turns, but through Tapas I’ve stayed on course and continue to deepen my practice and share what I’ve learned with others, so they too can find joy and freedom in their bodies, minds, and spirits through the practice of yoga – both on the mat and off.
What I find most challenging, and yet powerful, about Tapas is the ‘inner’ part of the fire. It’s not a fiery struggle or overt fight to get something done right now. Rather, it’s a quiet, disciplined, committed, consistent effort to stay balanced, focused, strong throughout the course of my life. And for me, it’s a lot tougher than ‘gutting through it’ to ‘get it over with’, which previous athletic endeavors all entailed. Distance running was like that for me – train hard and fast for months to get it done – a top ten finish, a time goal, and poof, I’m done! This is why I love, and am most challenged, by the discipline of yoga. There is no finish line.
Some days this discipline comes easy – when I’m well rested, when the sun is shining, when my car isn’t enveloped in snow and ice, when I’ve just nailed a new advanced pose I’m excited about. And other days, like today, when I’d much prefer to plunk another K-Cup in the machine and sit on my ass instead of dragging myself over to a hot 90-minute class that always leaves me in a glorious heap of sweat afterwards, it takes a concerted effort – Tapas – to get up and go.
The things we want most out of life are generally most difficult to come by. A loving relationship. A strong, powerful body. A rewarding career. These take hard work and steady, consistent effort – Tapas – even when you feel like sitting in front of the fire.
So go outside – light your inner fire – and reap the rewards.
And if you’re interested in further reading on the Sutras, here’s a nice article I came across in YogaJournal
In the past two months, this yogi/Seahawks fan has had the unusual experience of spending time in three distinct zones – Seattle (end zone); San Francisco (enemy zone); and Greater Philadelphia (neutral zone). I travel often enough, and can pretty much anticipate what to expect when visiting different parts of the country.
Until the mighty Seahawks draw out their talons.
The End Zone. Going to my hometown for the Holidays always feels like diving into a warm patch of moss – rain and fog outside, hugs galore from family and friends inside, and toasty flows at my favorite heated yoga studios (BeLuminous and Shakti Yoga). But this year, as the Seahawks powered their way into the playoffs, my mossy little hometown corner of the world became something bigger than brilliant tech-geeks and guys wearing socks, sandals and highwater khakis in December (guys who make enough dough to not give a damn). No, this trip was different. Seattle had a badass football team! Fashion-be-damned denizens were now decked head to toe in navy-and-neon-green duds with an angry-looking bird on their beanies. And if you had anything like this on, you’d get a high-five. From a complete stranger. In Seattle, a city not known for chatting it up with strangers. My yoga class even set a collective intention to Ohm for the 12th man. GO HAWKS!!! Ohm baby.
Enemy Zone. Last week was a different experience altogether. I followed the man on his business trip to San Francisco. With a three-hour Eastern Time zone jump start, we landed in the city on the Bay and swiftly dumped the bags at the hotel before settling into two prime bar stools at a downtown pub to watch the Hawks take on the Saints. Just another football game, between two teams other than SF, in a bar typically catering to conference-goers in town on business. A pretty neutral zone, right? Not this time. On this day, rabid Niners fans took over the joint, hurtling french fries at the screen anytime a helmet with a bird on it got a big break. My Seahawks Starbucks card, in the enemy zone, resulted in a blank (or, rather, ‘how dare you’?) stare from the barista. Yes I had cash handy, but I couldn’t resist. Gimme my latte already…are you forgetting where Starbucks’ home base is? At least my yoga class in the Mission District offered some respite: “what is this football thing going on around here, anyway?” our sweet teacher implored before opening ohms. I naturally set my intention once again for the power of the 12th man.
Neutral Zone. After chewing off my tenth nail in a tense-as-hell game between us (Hawks) and them (Niners) last night, I quickly discovered this morning that no one ’round these parts views these teams as us and them. More like they and they. As in, not our Philadelphia Eagles. Oh well, at least they’ll accept my Seahawks Starbucks cards and smile curiously as I parade around in my little beanie with a funny looking bird on it and SEAHAWKS XLVIII BOUND sweatshirt.
In sum, these experiences highlight how exciting a time the playoffs are for football fans, and the communities they play in. It’s all good fun. I adore all three cities – Seattle, San Francisco, and Philadelphia. And I’ll adore Denver too – just not until we whoop the Broncos in Super Bowl. GO HAWKS!
This past weekend I watched two wild card football games in their entirety. Without once flipping over to one of my go-to chic-oriented channels. No Bravo. No Lifetime. No OWN. No, just two mesmerizing football games – Colts v. Chiefs Saturday; Packers v. 49ers Sunday, that held my attention all the way through.
Rabid football fans (my TV mate included) likely relished in the strategic call-playing, successful execution on those plays, thrilling and disappointing monkey wrenches thrown in those plays, and the suspenseful conclusions of each game.
But for this yogi – who winces at the slightest shove, prefers running down a straight and narrow path devoid of any obstacles, and moves best in a 90 degree heated studio – watching these wild card football games summoned up a host of emotions and new appreciation for what these guys do for a living.
Maybe they do earn it.
I used to balk at the high salaries awarded to professional ball players. And still do, to some extent. But watching a dazed Jamaal Charles lie prone after suffering a concussion in the first quarter of the KC/Indianapolis game – a concussion that probably wasn’t his (or any player at this level’s) first – I appreciated the physical sacrifices these guys make to pursue their chosen field. Wide Receiver Donnie Avery’s subsequent concussion just a short time later confirmed how frighteningly ubiquitous these incidents are in this high stakes game.
The giant clouds of frozen breath coming out of the players’ mouths in the subzero temperature game in Green Bay took up a good part of my TV flat screen. Watching players sprint out onto the field from a frozen standstill on the sidelines made my middle-aged muscles ache. I’ve worked out my entire life, feel pretty limber, but oh God if I tried to run, throw, block, or leap in cold weather with no warm up whatsoever I’d pay for it dearly. I can only imagine what a morning-after must feel like for these guys.
Maybe they do earn it.
In subzero temperatures, again and again, these dedicated athletes butted heads, hurled the ball, caught the ball, leapt, rolled, ran through human cinder blocks, and willingly gave and received powerful hits, play after play. As though their lives depended on it. And with a career certain to end soon enough, their livelihoods do depend on it.
What other big-dollar earner shivers on the sideline with a chattering jaw eagerly waiting to strip off the monster parka to go back out there and get clobbered again? And again? What other big-dollar earner knows that any play, maybe even the next one, might summon stars and the shoulders of two trainers to get back up again? What other big-dollar earner fundamentally knows the second half of his adult life could very likely be rife with early-onset arthritis, joint replacements and possible brain damage?
So, clearly, in my mind. These players earn it. Every cent of it.
There are days, even after two decades practicing, I get stuck on the poses. I make the pose, rather than my experience in it, define me. Toppling out of tree means I can’t balance. Cartwheeling out of handstand means my core isn’t tough enough. You get the idea.
That’s when it’s time to step off the mat, breathe, and dig within for the higher purpose of what the practice does for my body, mind, and spirit. And in that spirit, I’ve added an awesome link (written by Mandy Burstein on mindbodygreen) here to help lead you back to an inspiring yoga experience should your poses get you down: