Let’s imagine that you love swimming in open water (any body of water that is not a pool). You get into the lake and swim in a straight line for about twenty minutes. Although it’s challenging, you feel an inner-drive to finish, so you turn around and swim back to shore.
But, what happens if you veer off of the straight line about ten minutes into the swim? When you turn around to head back to shore, obviously, you will not end up in the same location as you began. You made a course correction and ended up in a different spot.
Now, let’s consider a course correction, or change, you want to make in your life. Maybe you’re ready to commit to a weekly yoga class. Or perhaps you want to return to school, start saving for a big trip, or lose some weight. It could be a big change, like a new career or getting sober, or a smaller change like spending more time outside and less time on your phone.
Whatever the course correction might be, taking small steps toward your goal can help point you in the direction you want to go. If you employ course correction and the yogic idea of tapas – discipline, determination and drive – you’ll be well on your way to making a lasting change.
Tapas…it’s not just small plates of delicious food!
Tapas is one of the niyamas (internal observances) in the 8 limbs of yogic philosophy. It is the internal desire to make a change for the better and the self-discipline to persevere. In Sanskrit, tap means to burn or create heat. Tapas is our inner-fire. It’s the energy that allows us to transform ourselves through self-discipline, consistency, and commitment.
Think about chair pose in yoga. (If you’re not familiar with this pose, stand with your feet hip distance apart and squat with your hips reaching back, like you’re going to sit down.) This posture builds heat in the body (the thighs can feel like they are on fire if the pose is held for a while!). We are literally stoking our inner-fire when we are in this pose. It takes discipline to stay in a chair pose for several breaths, but there’s a fine line. Tapas is not about pushing to extremes or burning yourself out. It is the disciplined use of our energy.
Is there something you want to adjust in your life? Grab some paper and a pen and try this exercise…
Write down a few changes you’d like to make in your life right now. Circle the one that is really “speaking” to you.
Now, make a list of the things you need to do in order to reach that goal. Nothing is too small. List as many things as you can think of that will help you reach the target.
Pick one thing you can do to start moving in the direction of your goal, and do it! Once that is completed, select another task and complete it. Keep going until you can see the target and you’ve adjusted your course.
A change I’ve been wanting to make in my life is to meditate three times a week. Even though I’m a yoga teacher, and I understand the value of meditation, I’m not good at sitting still. But I know that meditation will help me quiet the chatter in my head and be more patient and focused.
The list of things I need to do to reach my goal include:
- Scheduling a time to meditate three times a week
- Finding a meditation app or guided meditation teacher
- Sitting down to meditate
The first task I’m going to tackle is scheduling the time. If I do my meditation in the morning, before I head downstairs for coffee, I’m less likely to get distracted by other obligations. So, I’m going to commit to meditating right after I brush my teeth on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday mornings.
Next, I need to find an app for guided meditation. My son uses the Headspace app and likes it, so I’m going to try that one.
Finally, I just need to get my butt on the meditation cushion and go!
Course correction complete!
Guess what happened with my meditation practice? After two weeks of consistently meditating, I started to lose motivation. One day, I hit the snooze button and fell back to sleep. Then, my dog needed to go outside, and I never made it to my meditation cushion. Another day, I just didn’t feel like meditating. This is where tapas, self-discipline, can help us stay committed to our goal.
We will absolutely have set-backs and bump up against obstacles on our journey. Sometimes, we will need to make another course correction. But other times, we need to accept the temporary, short-term discomfort (sitting still for a few minutes with my own thoughts) and remember why we wanted to make this change.
Reminding myself of how good I feel after I’ve sat quietly for a few minutes got me back on track. Yes, there are days where I don’t feel like being still, but then I remember that I’m committing to this practice for the long term. Some days I meditate for 15 minutes, others it’s just three. Tapas is what helps me stay the course.
A word of caution
The strategy of course correction and tapas is not a quick fix. You’ll need to let go of the expectation for instant gratification in order to be successful. We’re playing the long game and becoming the best version of ourselves!
It’s also important to know where your “edge” is and how to not go beyond it. Returning to the example of chair pose… yes, this is a great posture to help you build endurance and strength, but staying in the pose for 25 minutes is probably not going to benefit you. In fact, you may end up injuring yourself. Challenging yourself is great. Hurting yourself is not. Be mindful that too much tapas or fire (ego, effort, work, etc) can burn you.
Tapas on the yoga mat
One small adjustment (course correction) can make a big difference in where you end up. Adding discipline and focused effort, or tapas, can help you carry on toward your goal. If you can commit to slow, consistent, patient effort, you can achieve lasting change.