For the past three years, I have led a Tapas Workshop to begin the new year. No, it isn’t yoga and Spanish food. It is something entirely different and something I learned from my teacher, Max Strom, from a retreat over 13 years ago. I first learned of a Tapas-Style Yoga class with Max when we had a two hour class with only four or five basic poses the entire time. You learn a lot about yourself when you are in Warrior II for five to seven minutes! Over the years I have learned so much more about the philosophy behind Tapas and what Tapas actually means.
This Fall I spent a few days studying with Swami Tattvavidananda. Lucky for me, the topic was Tapas (the practice of graceful acceptance). Here are some things to consider as we embark on a new year:
What is tapas?
- tapas according to Swami TV- enthusiastically accepting discomfort; cheerfully accepting discomfort; practice of graceful acceptance
- it is the means through which we purify and transform our selves physically (body), verbally (speech) or psychologically (mind)
- 3 energies: rajas (active), tamas (lethargy) and sattvas (balanced)– tapas must be sattvic in nature to discover self-awareness
- don’t break they body while using it
- don’t pamper it
- don’t get obsessed with comfort or vanity
- put the body to use as a means of service– this will provide a radical revolution for the way you feel
- levels of speech
- faculty of speech is a power and a privilege
- speak 1/10 of what you speak now
- when we speak a lot we are likely to lie or to use harsh words
- speak so it is sweet to the ears of others
- the more you speak, the more agitated the mind becomes
Tapas of the Mind
- creates a mind that is transparent, much like water that has been filtered
- naturally, the human mind is an unhappy house divided on itself
- do you use the mind or does the mind use you?
- when we succumb to desires and fears, we disturb the peace of mind
How does tapas work?
- there are many types of tapas practice: ancients say most important are restricting the diet, limiting speech and controlling the body & breath
- essentially it is a means to strengthen ourselves to break cycles of behavior (use of willpower or discipline)
- tapas challenges us to wake up, pay attention and look at life in a new way
- tapas is an internal discipline to drive you forward meeting all obstacles with a cheerful disposition and graceful heart
What is a Tapas Style Yoga practice?
- holding poses for long amounts of time while controlling the breath with a focus on your intention
- controlling the breath interrupts automatic process that happens all day long and brings you to a new point of focus; this is accessible to any practitioner
- you will have to use your breath and your intention to cut through distractions and bring full attention to the present moment
- learn to appreciate the stillness and use it to create energy; internal discipline is needed (keep your arms from sagging, back straight, keep your mind in the pose)
- allow yourself to soften in the pose and not react to the discomfort– use the heat created to stay in an uncomfortable spot, give yourself permission to either stay and breathe deeper or to rest and come back up when you are ready; use this practice to resist old habits
- as difficulty arises we need to be creative with how we deal with this- what is going on isn’t as fixed as it seems
- investigate versus identify with what arises- this gives more space and allows for creative investigation
- when you feel discomfort- mentally or physically, use experiential observation—-> allow yourself to feel, then let go; in this way you become more porous and things pass though versus sticking
- motive supremely matters—> can do the same ritual, but motive matters; you decided the ritual, the attitude and the motivation
- what inspires you?
For 2014 my intention is not just awareness or acceptance of the present moment, but enthusiastic and cheerful acceptance of the present moment (even if it is uncomfortable). As Swami TV shared it is one thing to practice acceptance, but can you be whole-hearted in welcoming each moment as it arises? I am willing to try. Here’s to graceful acceptance and 2014!
Happy New Year…
With love from Liz