Updated: Feb 6
Tapas (discipline or austerities) is something we have to do at some time, we all have "rolled up our sleeves" to get something done. A good phrase comes to mind, "getting down to brass tacks," which means distilling down to the important details. It implies getting ready to start a new endeavour. For a tapas sadhana (practice) at school, I'm giving up mid-day sugary snacks and desserts at meal-time. I'm also undertaking a new prānāyāma (breathwork) practice to help strengthen my system. The idea is that through the discipline of starting something new and giving up something that doesn't serve me, I'll uncover something new. For about 12 weeks, the power of those habits will be exposed and the benefits of a new practice will slowly creep their way in. Mindfulness comes in when I do all of this without attachment, simply observing my thoughts and actions and how they operate.
Svādhyāya, self study, is an important aspect of yoga that sometimes gets lost when yoga is taught solely as physical exercise. In it, I'm commiting time to notice the impact of these changes on my body, mind and spirit. Each time I do the breathwork, I noticed the small ways it impacts my diaphragm and my intercostal muscles, the way my mind is brightened and that my posture is better. It tells me that prānāyāma is also a form of mindfulness. And I find that my own first person experience is corroborated by some notable teachers who describe breathwork this way. Svādhyāya is about finding your own truth and it is a doorway to a larger truth.
I'm learning that sometimes my own thoughts and actions are my own obstacles. Doing something day in and day out can be like holding up a mirror. Like a distorted funhouse mirror, the media and beauty industries can manipulate us with their insidious messages to improve yourself. If you just do "X" you'll have a better body. Try it with awareness and mindfulness. When it doesn't work out, you'll have a better sense of why. Or you may have success and then you'll have a better grasp of why it worked. That's why yogic principles can help you in your health journey. Following the media's fickle whims can lead you astray, but using the inner inquiry of yoga can help you stay on course. For example, if you take up that "Booty Yoga Workout" class shown in the photos, you may be getting a better butt. For what purpose? That is why svādhyāya is important. Knowing how a practice, food, or experience impacts you is like having freedom of choice and action. Thus yoga places power and agency into your hands.
I read recently that the iconic minimal lifestyle proponent and home organizer extraordinaire Marie Kondo has recently adopted a new approach. Instead of beating herself up about her disorganized home after having children, she chose to instead let it be. Now, she understands that the discipline she cultivated can be used on other things. Now she knows that tapas is a transferable skill. Tapas is good and beneficial, but we also need to know when to let up. This is the practice of metta (kindness) and karuṇā (compassion in action) and it brings balance. It is about recognizing where your discipline would be best used. Like Kondo says, just ask yourself, "What will help me spark joy?"