Tapas, or “Just Do It” Yoga

Living Yoga Niyamas Philosophy Tapas

Just Do It.

Source: Nike Logo

Pop culture references aside, “Just Do It” is a powerful mantra for inspiring action.

Over the past few weeks, I have unsuccessfully been trying to get back on the blog writing bandwagon, so I’m invoking the ”Just Do It” mantra to motivate myself into posting something on my blog – even if it is the worst post I have ever written!

A few months ago, my grandma went into the hospital. My writing (along with almost everything else in my life) was put aside because I wanted to spend as much time by her side as possible. I lost my grandma at the end of March and celebrated her life with family and friends in mid-April, and though I have had more time since then, I still haven’t been able to write.

I have a long list of ideas for blog posts, but my written words haven’t been flowing.

And, I had a similar experience with flow on my yoga mat today.

Most days, I could spend hours doing yoga on my own. I love exploring sequencing, playing with different postures and taking in what ever lessons my practice has to offer. But, today I was stumped – a practice wasn’t flowing from me.

My solution: I grabbed the latest copy of Yoga Journal and followed the home practice.

I still didn’t find my usual intuitive flow, but I stayed on my mat.

And, in this commitment to staying on my mat lies my understanding of the yogic practice of tapas.

In the Yoga Sutras, the Indian sage Patanjali outlines an eight-limbed path of yoga, and in the second limb (the niyamas), he offers five observances to bring more joy and ease into our lives. Tapas, the third niyama, is commonly translated as “fierce discipline,” but Judith Lasater offers a definition that really resonates with me. She describes 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.”

My basic personal tapas practice is a daily 15 minute meditation. I sit for 15 minutes every day – no matter how much I may not want to or feel like I don’t have the time to.  In her book Mindful Yoga, Mindful Life, Charlotte Bell offers the suggestion that yoga and meditation practitioners commit to doing five minutes each day.

I share this suggestion to emphasize that the practice of tapas demands consistency, but it does not require an abundance of time.

With the often paralyzing presence of choice in our day-to-day lives, tapas is a committed directing of our energy towards actions that support our well-being – even when we are not in the “mood” to do things that support our well-being.

It’s a commitment to just doing it – every day.

Whatever your “it” may be.

Consistency, or Comedy Night with Chris Brandt


Earlier this week, I attended a Yin Yoga class with Chris Brandt. While Chris introduced the theme for his class as an exploration of the impact waking up with a good song in your head can have on your day (simply put: the value of simple pleasures), I experienced the class (as my second title suggests) as a comedy night. Chris was on comedic fire, and there were a few points where I was a bit worried that I was going to start laughing uncontrollably in class – like I used to at school in my pre-teen years.

Being on the brink of uncontrollable laughter really takes me back to memories of grade six: in the French teacher’s office after school with my friend, laughing so hard I could barely stand up straight, and trying to convince the teacher that I had no idea what the words I had written on the board before French class meant in French. Merde, that was funny.

But, side notes aside, since Chris’ class I have been reflecting on a comment he made about the sense of seriousness that can pervade a yogic, or spiritual, practice, but how, in contrast, one of the greatest spiritual teachers of our time – the Dalai Lama – is always giggling.

Reflecting on my teacher Yogi Vishvketu in India, he too seems to move through the world with laughter. I remember him laughing so much of the time – and sometimes for seemingly no reason at all. He has an almost ever-present twinkle in his eye, and I’ve come away from teachings with him with quotes like, “Life is for fun,” scribbled in my notebook.

What I have been wrestling with is the gap between the joy spiritual teachers so often embody and the laughter I find in Chris’ subtle warnings about the side-effects of wind releasing pose. Because, as much as laughter was exactly what I needed that night, I don’t believe that leaving my yoga practice behind and going to Yuk-Yuk’s Comedy Club five nights a week is going to bring forth the joy I see in teachers like the Dalai Lama and Yogi Vishvketu.

Though I haven’t yet found my way from the laughter of Yuk-Yuk’s to the giggles of the Dalai Lama, my instincts tell me that it is a dedicated practice that closes the gap. I am trained in a classical form of yoga, Raja Yoga (Royal Yoga, or Classical Ashtanga Yoga), and in this form of yoga, we work with the eight-limbed path outlined by Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras. The second limb of this path, the niyamas (often translated as observances), outlines actions and attitudes to cultivate to reduce suffering; the third of these five observances is Tapas, which is traditionally translated as “fiery discipline.”

In an article in Yoga Journal, however, renowned yoga teacher Judith Hanson Lasater reflects on how the translation of Tapas to discipline can lead to an inappropriate association with being difficult or forced – which is, perhaps, where the seriousness that Chris was reflecting upon in class stems from. Lasater offers an alternate translation of 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.”

Being familiar with the depth of Chris’ personal practice and with his approach to teaching yoga, I interpret his offer of humour as a means of guiding students away from a “No pain, No gain” approach to their spiritual journey and guiding them towards a sense of tapas more in line with Lasater’s translation. The beauty I see in this approach – in laughing out loud while holding saddle – is the way it draws forth a sense of connection between laughter and a dedicated practice and reminds us that we practice yoga to find joy, to be happy and to giggle like the Dalai Lama.