Commit to Compassion

Ahimsa Compassion Philosophy Tapas

There is no power on earth greater than right action in the present moment. – Vasistha

sarah jamieson yoga

I teach a workshop on developing a daily yoga practice, and one of the key focuses of this workshop is learning to understand why yogic philosophy suggests a daily practice. To gain this understanding, we delve into the concept of tapas, which Patanjali wrote about in the Yoga Sutras around 200 CE.

In the midst of exploring this concept, I like to remind everyone (myself included) that tapas, a practice that can be described as consistency in striving towards your goals, was not included in the Yoga Sutras because it is something that most people find easy to do.

This practice of consistently striving towards our goals, learning to live with our most compelling priorities in mind, and investing our energy wisely is one of the most challenging things we can learn to do. A practice of consistency is demanding on a good day, but when life gets overwhelming, the practice gets even harder. And when we forget that consistency is something we’re learning, and we turn it into something we expect of ourselves, we make it infinitely more challenging.

When we berate ourselves for our failure to practice consistently, we lose track of a fundamental aspect of the practice of yoga. A consistent practice requires ahimsa (non-violence or non-harming); it requires a compassionate understanding of the challenges of being a human.

In the book Self-Compassion, Kristin Neff offers three elements of self-compassion: self-kindness, common humanity, and mindfulness. With the element of common humanity, she explains that “self-compassion involves recognizing that suffering and personal inadequacy is part of the shared human experience – something that we all go through.” As you make new commitments in your life or re-commit to goals that have fallen away, first and foremost hold a commitment to being compassionate with yourself through the learning process.

Remember that maintaining consistency in striving towards your goals is a core component of the yoga practice (which has been around for thousands of years) because it is something that everyone finds challenging. Remember that the challenges you face are part of a shared human experience – everyone suffers and feel inadequate, and remember that one of the most powerful ways to overcome those feelings is to share them with someone who feels exactly the same way – in other words, almost anyone.

By holding compassion as our first commitment, we create the space to better understand the challenges that arise for us in a practice of consistency. We move into a place where we can compassionately guide our lives in a way that honours our strengths and weaknesses. And with self-compassion, we learn to be more empathetic and understanding of the people around us and deepen the extend to which we can support them in committing to compassion.

Photo Credit: Chris Yakimov


Committing to Freedom

Tapas Yoga

Sarah Jamieson Yoga

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