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