New Years Resolutions: Tapas & the art of Discipline
HAPPY NEW YEAR!
On the surface level - its just another two days passing in the human construct of time... but December the 31st and January the 1st have come to mean SO much - the jekyl and hyde of our characters, desires, intentions... the Yang and Yin. This catharsis of New Years Eve and then the diets, goal-setting and abstinence of New Years day is definitely very 'human' - found across all cultures and religious festivals... how does this celebration of new beginnings reflect and impact our yoga practice?
I am all for celebrations, and New Year/celebrations of Light returning are reflected in nature and traditional cultures to mark the disintegration and waning of one year's energy and the beginning of renewal, waxing and regeneration. Yoga philosophy teaches us that actually all is in constant flux, change, disintegration and renewal. Nothing is ever still or the same. The path to bliss and enlightenment as described by yoga's tradition is truly being in this flux and letting go of fixed identity and expectations. So really, every moment is a 'New Year.' But in terms of our environment and nature - the Winter Solstice on December 21st is the shortest day and from then on light will increase, so we have a natural marker at this time of year of change.
TAPAS - (not Spanish snack!) is one of the yamas from Yoga's EIght Limbed Path. It means discipline, severity, heat. Essentially the review of what is toxic or non supportive in our life at new year and a period of complete abstenaince, will improve our self discipline, like a muscle - harnessing concentration, focus, strength of character (manipura chakra) and confidence.
There is one crucial point to distinguish a 'yogic' path of abstenance however. Detach yourself from the fruits of your labour. A regular strong yoga practice is an example of Tapas. Where you simply show up and practice to your best in each moment with no judgement, ego or striving. Whatever you give up in the new year, give it up for the act of giving up, of discipline, maybe even in devotion. Give up something to ALLOW something more positive and nurturing INTO your life. Allow this process to BE A PROCESS, and to be joyful as well as a challenge. Find what makes your heart sing and as you feel the tug of challenge, the intensity of discipline, remember and seek that purity and joy. Dont give up foods to lose weight, give up foods because they are not enabling you to ENJOY your body or full capacity of health.
In my practice and as a teacher I can see when I, or a student, is striving, pushing, fighting themselves in their practice - because they are too big, too unfit, too unflexible and the whole practice is driven by clinging and desire for that pose or the slim waist. Dont let guilt or repentance ANY WHERE NEAR your yoga mat - when it crops up, let it be your discipline to bash it on the head! Maybe this January, learn to ENJOY discipline - find the fierceness, the strength of giving up or adopting something that is a challenge... Learning to be with yourself in less comfortable waters. Yoga is a 'darshan', a way of seeing. By setting a new goal for yourself you may learn how to see yourself in a new way. We are changing and growing every moment, nothing is ever still - so we may as well harness this energy and direct that life force of change into new powerful and amazing habits and ways of being.
Although it is unsuprising, and I think quite heart warming that we adapt such a distinct binge and starve, revel and refrain approach to Christmas/New Years Eve and the New Year... yoga is the art of a balanced life. If you do give up or adopt something challenging this January - give yourself a little softness, sweetness and calm in other areas of your life to balance the energy of discipline and focus. Be there to observe your reactions to challenges and make quiet time for compassion at what is a hard time emotionally and mentally for many - resolutions or none.
In your meditation practice, you may wish to try memorising and repeating the Meta Meditation each day to accompany each day of your resolution. This is a brief interpretation of longer compassion prayers from the Buddhist tradition.
'May I be content of heart. May my body be strong. May my life be filled with ease.
May I be happy, may I be healthy, may I be at peace.
(Now repeat exchanging the 'I' for a specific person 'you')
May you be content of heart. May your body be strong. May your life be filled with ease.
May you be happy, may you be healthy, may you be at peace.
(Now repeat exchanging the 'you' for a general unknown plural 'they')
May they be content of heart. May their bodies be strong. May there life be filled with ease. May they be happy, may they be healthy, may they be at peace.
Repeat the first verse for yourself, and then allow yourself to sit in comfortable stillness for another 10-30 minutes.