One Thing at a Time
You may think that you are getting a lot done if you are doing many things at once. However, studies have proven that you actually complete less in the short-term when you multitask. Yoga provides us with the tools to expand our focus over time by offering guidance in the form of one practice at a time. To begin we address that which is most accessible; the body.
Discipline in Practice
Discipline is learned. Embedded within the eight limbs of Yoga are practices that are ineffective unless done with discipline. As we practice, consistently, we develop focus, control, awareness, discernment and more.
Consider the practice of Satya: non-lying or truthfulness. You may think, “I am not a liar.” According to Yoga; Satya is as much about what you say as what you do not say. It is a practice of consideration of your thoughts and words before they leave you; a practice of considering if what you are about to say will help or hurt yourself and others. Often, we will not realize we are lying until the words have left our mouths. Yoga teaches us to become observers of our behavior at all times. This discipline of observation helps us to become aware of habits that are rooted in self preservation. As we continue to practice, we refine our vision and begin to see more clearly.
The Resulting Heat
Have you ever made custard from scratch? In order to do so you must heat is slowly, over a period of time, while stirring constantly. The effect of the slow heat, time and consistent movement can result in a perfectly prepared custard. A lack of discipline and focus could lead to higher heat, shorter time and reduced movement resulting in an unconcealed liquid or a thick, gelatinous mess.
Tapas has many translations: heat, cook, purify, detoxify, zeal of practice, discipline, austerity. Tapas is both the means and the end. Through discipline in movement, breath, mindful focus, time, awareness, observation, effort, restoration, etc. we create heat, purification, detoxification, clarity, transparency, awareness of the Self. Our practice of creating Tapas results in Tapas. Our discipline results in discipline. Our focus begets focus.
The heat/intensity/discipline/passion of our practice cooks impurities out of us and refines us to our base - the Self.
More Than Poses
If you are ready to remove that which you do not need, lighten the load you carry daily, purify and clear away the impurities that poison you so that you spend each day feeling healthier, happier, more joy and ease in your life then you are ready to begin the practice of Yoga.
Chose wisely, for not every practice is guided equally. According to Hatha Yoga a Vinyasa (Flow) Practice is for the advanced practitioner. Would you begin running and start with 10 miles? Would you join a gym and on your first day and lift 100lbs? Approach Yoga in the same way. Begin with a practice that aligns with your current knowledge, strength, flexibility and ability levels. Begin here to develop the discipline and, as you create Tapas, you will know how to progress.
One of my favorite quotes is "Yoga is not just a work-out, it's a work-in."
Something amazing happens when you begin working on something new. Whether it's skiing, playing piano, painting or Yoga; you can feel that rush that comes as you begin to develop the skills necessary to accomplish the activity. In yoga, we refer to this as Tapas. It's zeal, energy, the desire to continue.
Hatha Yoga begins as a practice with physical focus. We learn to direct the movement of our bodies, breath, internal functions and Prana through effort.
Fitness activities such as HIIT, running, Crossfit, cycling, acrobatics, etc. can help us to develop strength, mobility and physical ability. They do not qualify as Yoga practices, but do align with the idea behind Asana (postures). The more we move our bodies, the better we understand them and more control we have over them.
Beyond these work outs are the practices of Yoga that encourage wellness within. Pranayama (intentional breathing techniques), Satkarma (purifying techniques) and Bandha (pranic movement) are just a few of the practices that cleanse the physical body.
Combining the techniques of physical fitness (work outs) and Hatha Yoga can bring about general physical health and wellness.
As we keep working, practicing, and learning more, Tapas can begin to fade. Our workouts become less enjoyable, the task becomes more challenging. Our interest decreases or we become bored with the repetition. When this happens, we can become frustrated because it doesn’t feel as exciting as it did when we first began. We want to be better, to feel what we felt. We want to access what we had before or quickly become adept at something new. The challenge becomes greater and the work more difficult. This is the point in our practice when it's time to return to Svadhyaya or self-study.
Refect upon where you began and how you used to feel. Consider that which has changed about your physical body. What feels different? What do you wish to continue to change? In doing so, you begin shifting your practice from simply being about the workout and, now, being about working-in.
Stick With It
Yoga can be tricky. It offers us great gains, growth, and wellness. Each of us has the ability to maintain and move forward on our paths. However, as these tangible, physical rewards seem to decrease, the challenges begin. We must learn to honor our limitations, push ourselves further and work-in.
Be an observer of your self. Notice the subtle changes in your appearance, wellness, thoughts and general outlook on life. Stick with the practice and you will soon be practicing Yoga everywhere. As you do so, you will continue to reveal your Self.
Rooted in the stories of the Rig Veda (an ancient Sanskrit text) the story of Agni refers to a god or high priest. In Yogic theory, Agni represents our spiritual fire.
Through our practice we create Tapas which means to burn or cook. Tapas occurs through the use of Agni. Through Tapas we are able to create Kriya or cleansing. Our Asana practice is the most tangible way to experience the heating of Agni. As our body moves, the heat grows, as the heat grows we begin to "cook" through Tapas and eliminate what we no longer need through sweating (Kriya). However, the practices of Pranayama as well as the rest of the 8 limbs can do the same but in different ways.
By practicing the Yamas and the Niyamas we remove our habits of lying and hurtful actions. Through concentration we are able to still the mind and remove cita (mind chatter). Through meditation we still the body and mind; eliminating the distractions that lie outside of our Self. Finally, in Samadhi (bliss) we are free from all impurities.
Our goal is to allow Agni to burn to help remove impurities and discover our true Self which lies hidden beneath the layers that distract us.