Tapas: the Day I Found My WHY and Did 216 Body Rolls
Why am I doing this crazy thing that looks like head banging on fast forward?? Read on, my friends...
I've always had a bit of a lukewarm relationship with tapas. Not the Spanish small plates of olives and papas bravas (which I unequivocally love), but rather the yogic concept of tapas - the third of the niyamas or habits of the yogic lifestyle. It comes from the Sanskrit root 'tap' meaning 'to burn' and it's usually translated as discipline or austerity. Not the most fun at the party. I think what always failed to inspire me about the idea was the suggestion that to be a "good yogi" or a "real yogi" you've got to make yourself suffer a bit.
Like we don't all do enough suffering already.
Don't I see the value of some discipline in life? Of course - that's what's keeping my bum in this chair writing a blog instead of getting up to make another cup of tea or having just one quick Facebook check. But I never fully got on board with tapas because I resent the implication that the more hardship and intensity you are willing to force yourself to endure, the more sincere your yoga practice. For me, that idea contains a strong scent of ego and condescension.
It's the logic that more is always better and less is always weak, and I soundly disagree.
Full disclosure: I always wanted to make my peace with tapas. I wanted to get it. I wanted to feel it. I wanted to jump from my bed at 5am with the burning urge to sweat it out on my mat. Every single day. I wanted to be inseparable from my meditation cushion for hours at a stretch. But I didn't. I wasn't. And when I ignored my instincts and forced myself to do it anyway (which some teachers suggest) it didn't work. I struggled. I felt exhausted. I became frustrated and unproductive and resentful. I felt like this kid:
Who wants a yoga practice that feels like that?
So I continued my yoga practice as usual: honoring my body and moving in ways that felt good, that gave me strength and flexibility. But I had this nagging feeling that I wanted more - I wanted that fire that would push me to learn and try new things more often and more boldly. After all, life is short and time is precious. I wanted to have the drive to challenge myself and break my patterns (ideally in a way that still honors my body and feels good.) I wanted tapas.
Here's the good news: I finally sussed it. I figured out the missing link; the way to make tapas work for me. It happened on a day that I woke up in a total funk. Both sides of the bed were the wrong side. You know those days. Ugh. A few days before I had done a writing exercise where I responded to the question: why do you do what you do? I asked myself: Why do I teach? Why do I want to share my insights and my tools? Digging deep to get to the root of my motivations, I admitted to myself that I actually want to change the world...and that gives me passion.
That gives me a shining enthusiasm stronger than my resistance, stronger than the pull of old habits. That makes me want to show up, rather than let myself off the hook.
I absolutely adore this miracle world and the confounding variety of beings in it and I want to play a part in making it a place of compassion, peace, dignity, and love. Oh yeah!
That was what got me out of bed and onto my mat on that fateful morning. But the story doesn't end there...
That morning, I had the sudden inspiration to practice 108 body rolls. Let's backtrack: a couple years ago, my teacher Jennifer Yarro showed us how to do body rolls at an advanced training and mentioned that practicing 108 of them in a row can correct structural imbalances in the body. NEVER before had the idea struck me to actually do it.
I am not recommending that you copy this practice, but that morning, my inner voice could not have been clearer. I remembered that lesson with Jenn like a lightning bolt out of the blue. And so I began, giving it my all. I started sweating around number 20, couldn't believe I wasn't even HALFWAY by the time I hit 40, wanted to quit around 60...but I kept going. Afterwards, I lay down in savasana to integrate the practice. As I was laying there, settling my breath, my inner voice said, "Do it again." I'm sorry, what??!
Normally I would have told my inner voice to go take a hike at this point...and yet that day I chose something different. I had the bright ember of tapas to fire me up. And so I did the whole set again. Number 106, 107, and 108 of the second round were super slow and juicy and I realized I was actually savoring them. I did them all. All 216.
Not because I forced myself to do it out of guilt or fear - not because I thought I was supposed to or because I was afraid I'd be a crappy yogi if I didn't do it - I did it because I knew why I was doing it.
And that WHY was super compelling. Tapas is also translated as "burning passion", and I felt it that morning. Each time I chose to stay in the moment with my breath instead of giving in to the temptation to stop, to go back to my comfortable safety zone (i.e. bed), I felt this intense heat rising within me. So this is the definition that I'll keep...
Tapas - the burning passion that arises when you know and care why you do what you do.
I still do 108 body rolls sometimes (evidence above). And now I love it. The resistance was all in my mind. All I needed was motivation powerful enough to overcome it.
So ask yourself - what is the thing that is most important to you? What would you give up your comforts for? What do you care about enough to surrender your self-pity, your apathy, your doubts? What are you striving for and WHY?
Shortly before writing this, I came across Simon Sinek's TED Talk about this very topic - finding your why. He comes from more of a business perspective of using it to persuade potential clients, but the principles work just as well to persuade yourself, as I can now attest. It's well worth a watch if you're not one of the 27.2 million people who have already watched it, despite the poor video quality. You can find it here.
Happy watching and happy why-ing!