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