Exploring the Niyamas: Using tapas to burn through our shit

RYT-200 Hour Certified Yoga Teacher. Erica started practicing yoga daily to bring herself flexibility, strength and balance. She enjoys doing yoga on the mat in the room, in nature and at the sea side. Erica brings yoga from the mat to everyday life and it helps her to be balanced, non judgmental and to learn new things. She likes learning and challenges, and encourages students to challenge themselves, learn new asanas, practice and enjoy every minute of yoga.
This entry is part 3 of 3 in the series Applying the Niyamas to Daily Life
I just want to chill out under a tree!

I just want to chill out under a tree!

by Kara-Leah Grant

Oh God do I need to cultivate tapas right now. Or I am cultivating it. Or the cultivation of it is serving me. Or something.

I’m over-whelmed, emotional, stressed out and just want to get off this damn computer and go sit under a tree.

(Notice the shift from Wednesday’s post on self-realisation? Welcome to duality people!)

It’s two days until book launch and I have a mountain of things to do but I’m staying with family and also want to see them and I have a delightful three year boy to spent time with.

My iPhone completely died two days ago taking all my contacts etc with it – at least until I can get it fixed and restore my back-up.

It’s full moon tomorrow night and I know it’s bringing all kinds of shit to the surface, I feel it in my belly and I feel it in my heart.

To top it all off, I’m on deadline with this article, as I’m writing it for Asana Journal. I have to write it. I don’t want to. I don’t want to do any of this mountain of work right now. I just want to retreat into my hole and take care of myself.

But sometimes that’s just not possible. Sometimes we have commitments and responsibilities and obligations and we just have to step up to the plate. Today is one of those days.

I’ve been researching and reading about tapas for the last few weeks in preparation for this article and one of the reasons I was putting it off was I just didn’t get it.

On one hand tapas is all about austerity – about being mindful of the obligations we take on and the energy they cost us.

Uh oh. Just in writing that I’ve had a major insight. See, I’d been relating austerity to physical objects – thinking that the less we own the less we have to carry and the clearer our life can be. I’ve got that aspect dialled.

But it’s not just that. Austerity also refers to all of the projects and commitments and obligations we take on too. All of those take energy and carry a weight. This is what I’m feeling right now – I suspect I’ve taken on far more than I can carry and the weight of it makes me feel like I’m drowning.

I haven’t been mindful, or aware of tapas when creating new projects – like multiple book launches up and down the country – or saying yes to new commitments.

Tapas asks us to be aware of every thing that we allow into our life because it all has a cost – it all fragments our energy in many directions.

And regardless of what some of us think, we can only do so much and be thinking about so many things at once.

Lately, I’ve felt like my head is about to explode. I just can’t fit anything else into it. I need to take some serious tapas action and start weeding things out of my life again – this time not the physical, but the commitments.

Phew. Glad that’s sorted. Now.

The other aspect of tapas is to burn through, or fiery discipline.

Jennifer Schmid, who lives and teaches at the Ananda Ashram in upstate New York says:

“It’s through having a focused effort of self-discipline – be it asana, meditation, or mindfulness – that we purify the mind of impurities, habits and patterns that are no longer serving us. When these impurities are destroyed we begin to see the world as it is, rather than a projection of what we think it is.”

This focused effort of self-discipline is what my book Forty Days of Yoga – Breaking down the barriers to a home yoga practice is all about – in a sneaky kind of way.

In the book, I get readers to shift their attention to all the reasons why they can’t practice yoga every day and either eliminate them or come up with a strategy to work-around them. In dealing with the obstacles and challenges to daily practice in this way, readers are cultivating tapas. They’re learning to find a way to practice no matter what.

This is tapas – noticing when an old tendency arises and sticking to your course of action no matter what.

What I’m curious about is how this applies to the situation I find myself in right now – over-whelmed and over-committed. I’ve violated tapas as austerity. Is my tendency to create work for myself symptomatic of a tendency toward being a workaholic? Is this something I need to burn through?

After all, addictions come in many disguisesdrugs, alcohol, food, men, women, tv, internet – anything we use to distract ourselves from being fully present.

Right now, I’m feeling that desire to be fully present, and when I do, I discover I don’t want to be working like a manic. I want more balance and more spaciousness in my life.

It’s not a new thing. I’ve noticed this before. Before I moved down to Glenorchy, I made an effort to complete all my obligations and committed to taking on no new projects for at least two months. Out of that spaciousness arose Forty Days of Yoga.

It’s that spaciousness I want to cultivate again. It’s out of that spaciousness that my writing can arise.

Ultimately, that’s what really matters to me. Writing from the soul.

Judith Lasater has this to say about tapas:

Another way to understand tapas is to think of it as consistency.  One of the highest disciplines is that of consistency: getting on the yoga mat every day, sitting on the meditation cushion every day, observing the antics of the mind every day, forgiving your mate or your child yet another time. …Tapas is ultimately measured in the consistent willingness to begin practice again and again, over and over again to bring awareness to this very moment.

It’s that awareness that I’m bringing to my experience right now as I note how I feel. I’m aware that I’m made some unconscious decisions in my excitement about publishing my first book. (Woo hoo! Lets travel the country and share it with everyone!)

I can laugh at myself and also feel compassion for myself. It’s natural to feel excited. It’s natural to want to share it with people. Next time, with more mindfulness and awareness of tapas, I can have a smoother process and better systems in place that create more spaciousness around that excitement and sharing.

In the meantime, my ability to connect in with the fiery discipline of tapas means that I’m able to stay the course and do everything that’s on my plate right now. I can prioritise, drop, delegate and focus enough to shift what I’m experiencing right now. And with some concentrated work for the next two hours while my delightful three year old is at playgroup with his Grandmother, I can create some space to go and hang out with him under a tree this afternoon.

That’s tapas.

Feeling the over-whelm.

And burning on through it.

See you on the other side.

ps. The very act of writing this article  burnt through the overwhelm I was feeling, reminding me that feeling states are fleeting and leaning into them is the way to go. Life is about ups and downs – riding them, feeling them, staying centered within them. And when at all possible… laughing at them!

Related posts:

  1. Exploring the Niyamas: How do we cultivate Samtosha (contentment) in our life? Of all the yamas and the niyamas I’ve explored in…
  2. Exploring the Niyamas: How does Saucha affect our lives? What is saucha, often translated as purity or cleanliness? How…
  3. Can you name all the yamas and niyamas from Patanjali’s Eight Limbs? This entry is part 1 of 6 in the series…

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