My early encounters with the practice of yoga seemed to pour ease into my body, mind and heart. As I fell in love with the practice, an important lesson I was lucky to be taught is that yoga doesn’t “fix” our lives. Yoga doesn’t remove adversity and hardship from our path.
No matter how much yoga you or I do, we are human, and we will still feel loss, grief, heartache, anxiety, depression, fear, shame, anger and loneliness. And some days we will feel these emotions intensely enough that we may start to lose faith in the ways that our practice supports our lives. Maybe we start to consider that yoga isn’t working for us anymore. But these days of doubt are the days we need our practice the most.
In the classical Yoga Sutras, the sage Patanjali offers five observances to bring more ease and joy into our lives. Tapas, the third of these observances, is often translated as fierce discipline, but teacher Judith Lasater shares an interpretation that resonates more with me. She translates tapas as “consistency in striving toward your goals: getting on the yoga mat every day, sitting on the meditation cushion every day—or forgiving your mate or your child for the 10,000th time.”
I used to fear that routines and commitment would make me feel trapped and tied down. I didn’t want to structure my life because I wanted the freedom to creatively shape each moment as I lived it. But as my practice shifted to incorporate the consistency of tapas, so too did my sense of what it means to feel free.
I used to think freedom meant having the flexibility to do anything I wanted to do and, as a result, not knowing what the days and weeks in front of me were going to hold. Through practicing tapas, I discovered that freedom may not mean having all the choice in the world. Instead, it might mean not having to bear the burden of all those choices.
Am I going to practice or meditate today? Or go to the gym? What am I going to eat for dinner? Would this intriguing stranger make a better partner than my current one?
The mind becomes quieter with the decision already made. I have a daily practice that is sustainable through sickness and health, and I never have to spend an ounce of energy debating “Am I going to do my practice today?”
Starting to practice yoga changed my life. Adding the consistency of tapas brought an unexpected dose of ease. It taught me to appreciate the freedom that commitment can bring.
Photo Credit: Chris Yakimov