If you have ever finished a yoga practice and thought you came up short, this post is for you.
I believe something good comes out of every single practice. Sometimes it’s profound, like newfound clarity or peace of mind about something that’s been bothering you. Sometimes it’s a physical breakthrough...like today when I unexpectedly jumped into bhujapidasana for the first time!
But more often then not, there are no breakthroughs. Usually, we end our practice basically the same as we started, and it may feel on the surface like we didn’t accomplish much. Nothing could be further from the truth. Never underestimate the importance of simply maintaining the habit of practice. For most of us, that is the hardest part, and it just so happens to be the key to unlocking the spiritual and physical benefits of the practice.
Once we make it to the mat, the asanas unfold in their own way and in their own time. Strong or slow, heavy or light, it is what it is. We have less control over our physical practice than we would like. But getting our lazy butts onto the mat in the first place? That is the effort. That is where we flex our true yoga muscles. Tapas, baby! Tapas is a sanskrit word that means discipline or sacrifice. It isn’t something that we have or don't have—it’s something we must cultivate and grow within ourselves. We must stoke it like a fire (not-so-coincidentally, tapas also means “heat”). It is a fundamental component of the spiritual practice of yoga.
I don’t like to talk to much about yogic philosophy because, well, what the hell do I know? But tapas is a subject I feel strongly about because it has been such a gift to me. I’ve always been unmotivated to do hard things. I could give you my life story, but suffice it to say that I didn’t learn confidence as a kid, so as an adult, I just didn’t believe I could accomplish things that challenged me. I believed that if something was difficult, I needed someone to swoop in and save me.
Yoga has changed that. Showing up on my mat regardless of how I feel has stoked the fire of tapas in me. I understand that my goal, if there is one, is to cultivate the discipline to show up for my practice everyday. That discipline, in turn, has given me the confidence to believe that I can accomplish things if I just show up and try. Turns out, I’m not the hopeless lazy ass I thought I was. I just hadn't practiced discipline enough. Also, thankfully, tapas has a way of permeating our lives over time. What starts with the discipline of getting on our mat leads to the discipline and drive to improve our diet or bite our tongue when angry. Tapas is like a wildfire that spreads through our spirits and burns the habits in our lives that are not serving us.
So next time you feel shitty because you didn’t do well on your mat that day, remember that you did do important work. You practiced practicing. You threw some kindling on the fire of tapas. You showed up, and therefore made it more likely that you’ll show up tomorrow and the next day. You will eventually have the physical and emotional breakthroughs that you need, but not if you don’t cultivate the discipline to get on your mat in the first place. It is the small sacrifice we make everyday to get off the couch on to our mat that makes the difference. It opens the door to limitless possibility.
Just get on your mat. Don’t look back. Don’t overthink it. Tapas, baby.