A lot of people are first drawn to the practice, because of the fulfilling physicality of asana. You work your body and clear your mind as you move from pose to pose, always trying to ground yourself through the steadiness of your breath, and at the end of it, you enjoy the exquisite release and quiet of Savasana which keeps you coming back for more.
It starts out pretty simple, but I have seen many of my students make enduring commitments to their practices and have had the privilege of witnessing their practices grow and mature over the years. The transformation in each and every one of them has been equal parts amazing and humbling.
The process is never easy and involves working through a lot of resistance not only in the physical body, but also grappling with runaway thoughts and haywire emotions, simmering anxieties and building frustrations, perceived limitations — it takes a lot of courage to explore and move into these dark and unsettling facets of ourselves and endure all the messy feelings and issues that bubble up. It takes a lot of strength to get to know your Self.
One of the most profound and enduring concepts in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, is tapas, from the Sanskrit root, “to burn”. By showing up for our practices, we commit ourselves to the process of burning through the dross: the habits and negative patterns that are holding us back, in order to realize the fullness and wholeness of our being. It’s about peeling away layers so that the Self can shine brighter.
In asana, it’s staying a few breaths longer in a pose, giving yourself another opportunity to breathe into the discomfort, to still the fluctuations of your mind and hopefully realize the root of the discomfort and resistance on both the physical and emotional level. However, it’s very important not to lose sight of the fact that practicing tapas is not about moving on to more difficult poses every single class, or always pushing yourself to go deeper and work harder all the time.
As Judith Lasater explains, “a better way of understanding tapas is to think of it as consistency in striving towards your goals … If you think of tapas in this vein, it becomes a more subtle but more constant practice, a practice concerned with the quality of life and relationships rather than focused on whether you can grit your teeth through another few seconds in a difficult asana”.
I invite you to get to know your Self, and show up for your practice and walk away with a sense of courage and find the inspiration to dive in and live your life!
Joan Hyman is a distinguished world traveling yoga teacher. With over twenty years of experience leading retreats, trainings, and workshops worldwide – fifteen of which as a distinguished YogaWorks senior teacher – Joan recently brought her expertise to Wanderlust. As Director of Teacher Trainings, Joan collaborates with teachers who are experts in their field of study with the goal to create an eclectic training program for students at any level. Joan’s teachings come from an organic and intuitive place, as she draws upon the combination studies of Ashtanga and Iyengar yoga as well as Ayurveda, and meditation. She will be teaching in the Asia Yoga Conference in Hong Kong and a teacher training in Kuala Lumpur this coming June 2017.
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