Burn Baby Burn

by Allison Andersen, E-RTY 500

Midway through the Niyamas we encounter Tapas. In this context it is not a small portion or appetizer as you may have hoped, but a Sanskrit word with several translations depending on the source you consult.
  • To burn: This is considered the literal translation and refers to burning off impurities during your physical practice at its most basic; and burning off karmic seeds at its most esoteric. Either way the act is a purification. The Bhagavad-Gita refers to it as the purifying flame that is ignited to help burn off what is necessary in body, mind and speech.
  • Discipline: Perhaps the most accessible description, it refers to disciplining the mind, the body and the many aspects of life.
  • Living with zeal and sincerity: This interpretation by Nischala Joy Devi leads us back to discipline in gentler way.
For many, this one seems easy. Just do yoga every day. Come to your mat, move through the postures and check it off your list. But, as you may have guessed, its more than that. Yes, come to your mat, but bring with you clear and constant attention to each movement, each breath and each decision to go deeper or back off.

For others, discipline is something to be fought; structure the ultimate jailer of freedom.

But it is that very structure that provides the ultimate liberation. It sounds counterintuitive, but consider how much time you spend planning, hoping, dreaming, thinking about all you want to do, have or be. You know, procrastinating. Or, if you prefer, wasting time, which is really the opposite of freedom.

Cultivating discipline – and it is an art to be worked – ironically takes, well, discipline. It can begin half-hearted and with baby steps. You can drag your feet and whine, huffing and puffing all the way to your mat. But you’re going. Your practice can begin completely without sincerity or an ounce of earnestness. You are being made to go. It wasn’t your idea, after all.

And then you go the next day and the next. And it’s not so bad. So you keep going. Then oddly enough you begin to look forward to it. And then you skip a day – you deserve it. And then another day. Before you know it your mat is stuffed deep in your psychic closet buried behind all the more important things you have to do first. Like plan stuff.

This is the process. Habits are strong and somehow the habits that benefit us the least often win. Go back to your mat. Create a new habit.

And so you return. It is in the returning that the true practice is established. You have learned something about yourself that warrants a closer look and often that can be found on your mat.

But it is not the physical practice alone that creates the burgeoning sense of peace, nor is it just the postures that require discipline. It is setting it first in the mind, making the decision – maybe even fighting the decision – but doing it anyway. You are creating a new habit of self-care.

And ultimately of liberation.

Helpful Hint: For those who don’t naturally bound out of bed at first light and run to their mat: practice with others, go to a studio and be led by a professional. It’s easy to phone in a home practice, less so in a group whose intention is shared.

“Living life with zeal and sincerity, the purifying flame is ignited, revealing the inner light.” – Nischala Joy Devi