In the Yoga Sutras, the sage Patanjali gave us the eight limbs of yoga – practices which support us in our spiritual development. The second limb, called The Niyamas, guide us in ways to look after our personal well-being. They are – Saucha (purity), Santosha (Contentment), Tapas (The Fire Of Your Practice), Svadhyaya (Self Sudy) and Ishvara Pranidhana (Surrender To Spirit).
Tapas (Yoga Sutra 2.43) – may be literally translated as Heat, but I like to think of it as The Fire For Your Practice. It is the effort, the spiritual fire needed for practice, to step on to your yoga mat, every day (or week, or into some form of formal spiritual practice, whatever that is). One cannot truly be in practice without the necessary endeavour to turn up to it. In this sense it is the discipline to practice. Here are a couple of interesting quotes:
“It has been said that if you do not have discipline, it is like trying to walk without legs. You cannot obtain liberation without discipline.” Chogyam Trunpa
“The discipline to be a free spirit.” Gabrielle Roth
The wisdom of these quotes reveals to us how necessary it is to turn up to practice. Woody Allen also said that eighty per cent of success is simply turning up! And that’s been my experience … I just have to get to my mat in the morning, one pose, then another, then my energy already begins to rise … and I’m in my practice. It doesn’t take much once I’m there, but I do need that effort, the passion, the love of this path, to bring me to the mat.
In this day and age discipline is somewhat a dirty word – I rather like Donna Farhi’s interpretation of Tapas – Burning Enthusiasm. Come to love your practice … work in a way which brings joy and engagement into your life, and this may carry you a long way on your path.
In the end practice is about returning to Balance, and balance isn’t some boring existence where nothing exciting happens – it’s an amazing adventure in itself – an adventure for a lifetime.
Here are some more guidelines to keeping your practice alive and well:
- Think of it more as developing a love for ourselves and our practice. How do we do that?
- Keep it do-able!
- Be kind and humerous in coaxing ourselves to practice.
- Create conditions which are conducive to practice – collect the props you need, a special space and time away from everyday life.
- Do what you need to do without causing harm. Quality rather than quantity. (Jason Crandell used to practice in front of TV until the yoga became more interesting. Mark Whitwell suggests just 7 minutes a day would be enough).
- Know that you are not the only one that needs to generate effort to get out of bed in the morning. (I have a student who leaves their mat right next to their bed so that when they wake in the morning they can literally roll out onto their mat!).
- Seek the company of like-minded friends – for dancing, yoga classes, retreats.
- Understand that supporting family with kindness is just as important (if not more so) than doing a whole load of sun salutations.
- Taking regular small steps, one can achieve much. Feed the fire regularly and often. Nourish your flame.
- “Do what is truly achievable with unwavering commitment to giving yourself to the moment.” – Judith Lasater.
Remember also that your “will” can only take you so far, and that practice also involves the balance of surrendering your effort – Vairagya and Santosha. Santosha – the practice of active contentment to what is present – a not pushing away, a radical acceptance to what is arriving, and softening to this. Vairagya – to be dispassionate, not attached to the rewards of your practice (though still enjoying them!)
So in the end practice is about returning to Balance, and balance isn’t some boring existence where nothing exciting happens – it’s an amazing adventure in itself – an adventure for a lifetime. Remember that balance comes from within rather than outside circumstance. Developing the ability to tolerate difficult circumstance or feelings and emotions. Seeing that these are ever changing – like sensations, pressures, pulsations in the body.
Remember too that the Niyamas are expressions of our true self – when we come home to ourselves, these qualities, like a disciplined and sustained practice happen naturally.
Ka Whangaia ka tupu, ka puawai
That which is nurtured, blossoms and grows.
Blessings … Neal