Category Archives: Eight limbed yoga

The 52: Lesson Forty Three — Tapas: The Flame of Change

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butterflyblueskyTapas.  Ah!  Spanish food!  But no, this is not the kind you eat at a Spanish restaurant — all those delicious “small” plates of food. But, in another way,  this kind of tapas is food too.  It is food for your soul and your eternal being.  In tapas, one might say we are “cooked” into something new.  We are “cracked open” so a greater understanding can emerge.

Tapas is a Sanskrit word that describes yet another of the niyamas, the ethical practices as set out in classic yoga philosophy.  It is a guideline to help us live in the world while still embracing the spiritual essence of our own being.  Most of us are not monks or hermits, living apart from everyday life.  We need systems of support along the way.  Thus, we have the eight limbs of yoga.  And, thus, we have tapas.

LESSON FORTY THREE

TAPAS —  THE FLAME OF CHANGE AND ENTHUSIASM

The word, tapas, has been described in a variety of ways.  Some say it is a fire that burns within and fosters wisdom, integrity, simplicity, and focus. Others laud its ability to trigger enthusiasm and excitement pushing us ever more to release all distractions and bring us through the flames to a place of deep balance and tranquility.  Others explain tapas as that which kindles the flame of the divine within us and burns away all impurities.  All of these describe the richness that is tapas.  

It is useful to think of the practice of tapas when we are in the midst of crisis, change, and pain.  When it seems that some sort of catharsis is occurring and pressing us into a sometimes dramatic change.  When something within us is being burned away so that a new version of ourselves may appear. For myself personally, a few years ago my path took me into a place of deep loss and fear, It was a falling away from what I thought I had been.  Something new was struggling to make itself known — a new “me” in effect.  It felt like being burned up until I could see the debris was melted away, and I was glad to see it go.

Your pain is the breaking of the shell that encloses your understanding.

Khalil Gibran

Pain and loss are not uncommon in the physical world and while we are residing there, even in it as a dream, our feathers get ruffled.  Staying steadfast in our beliefs is a powerful means of unearthing the “pearl” within the shell.  Sometimes we become so immersed in this play of grief, self-pity, anger, and other emotions, that it is hard to catch the spiritual drift.  Swami Muktananda wrote:

The secret to success in sadhana (spiritual practices) is to use everything to our advantage.

There are legions of stories about those who have turned tragedy into enlightened experiences.  Take, for example St. John of the Cross in his writings in The Dark Night of the Soul. His suffering carried him into the arms of the Divine.  Or consider the response of Ram Dass, a contemporary teacher on the spiritual path who, much to his surprise, “suffered” a stroke some years ago, leaving him quite debilitated physically.  Yet this experience of “fierce grace,” as he called it, resulted in his naming his experience as “being stroked” by God.

Don’t be mistaken, it is my wish that none of us are so “blessed” as to reach deep levels of pain, but perhaps we can begin to see that the fire that consumes the forest makes way for new shoots to spring from the soil.  It is a form of re-birth that allows the Divine within each of us to shine in the light of day.

These ideas may help you better understand tapas:

  • When you are confronted with levels of fear, pain, or loss, what might you do to “ground” yourself?  Would it help for you to take a walk, listen to some music, do yoga poses, watch your breath, meditate, read a book that makes you laugh?  What about praying, asking for guidance and strength?  Or reading some passages that help you remember who you are?
  • Using affirmations can bring a lift.  Saying “I love myself completely NOW,” can be helpful in giving something positive for the mind to give focus, and breaking a pattern of negative thinking.
  • Can you remember times when you felt lost and afraid?  Do you remember how long this lasted?  Did something else arise to replace that experience?  Can you recall in any way that those feelings and emotions were constantly changing, yet you, the real you, was still there, unchanging.  Are you able to see that you made it through and came out stronger?
  • Try thinking of ways that sustain you and keep you steady, when you are not in the eye of the storm.  If you devote more to those habits, like eating good, healthy food, caring for your body, finding coping mechanisms for stress, taking time to go inward, laughing, giving love and forgiveness to yourself and others, they will be “set” in your everyday life.  All of these build up strength for times of duress and flame the fires of joy and happiness within us.

Remember that tapas builds enthusiasm, and “fires us up” for confronting whatever may arrive in our lives.  So let the multiple meanings of tapas enrich your life in new and surprising ways.  We are all in this together, walking hand in hand, on the path that guides us to Eternal Love.

With love and namaste, Deanne

For more information, go to http://www.deannemincer.com

The 52: Lesson Thirty-Eight — Well, Just How Pure Are You?

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butterflyblueskyWhat a challenge!  Can we be “pure” in body, mind, spirit, thoughts, and words?  What if you think you have accomplished one of them and then you have a little “slip?”  Say, you eat only raw foods, but you go to a banquet and have something else?  Or you promise yourself you will only have pure thoughts, then anger arises?  What then?  Is it time to go back to the last lesson — on forgiveness?

Purification is spoken about in many spiritual disciplines.  In yoga, it is called, in Sanskrit, saucha, and refers to purification on many levels — in body, mind and heart, in thought and action.  Saucha is the first of the niyamas or observances that make up a part of the Yoga Sutras, the comprehensive and reliable path as laid out by the yoga sage, Patanjali.  This eight fold or eight limbed guide is thoughtful and as relevent today as it was at the time it was written.  I like to think of sutras as guidelines.  If we are too rigid, we (and the ego) might use them as a means to beat ourselves up , to judge ourselves and others.  That would, from my viewpoint, defeat the whole idea that we are loved unconditionally, right now, just as we are.

LESSON THIRTY-EIGHT

SAUCHA — PURITY

When I was fairly new to yoga and its teachings, I took very seriously the idea of purification of the body.  I was learning to be a teacher of hatha yoga and understood very well how two of the “limbs” of classic yoga  were effective for the body — asana (the postures or poses of yoga), and pranayama (breath work).  Simply expressed, the poses are effective in purifying the physical body as well as the energy system, the nadis and the chakras.  The breathing practices help cleanse and purify by moving oxygen and prana through the body.  Of course, the mind and spirit benefit as well.

In addition to these forms of purification, there were others that I embraced.  They were things like weekly fasting on water and juices, cleansing through daily use (which I still do every morning) by using the neti pot and sending water through both nostrils and out, eye asanas to cleanse the eyes, and various and sundry other cleansings.  I can still hear the gasps from my yoga students when I describe the “string” neti, pulling sterile string through the nose and out the mouth, and, even more loud gasps, fasting then inducing vomiting (we called it purging) to empty the stomach of mucus and old contents.  Well, let’s just say, without going into some even more shocking methods, ,you could spend a lot of time on cleansing the body.  I sure felt clean but I’m not sure I was doing the big time, real purifications I needed — like purifying the mind and thought and heart.

Of course, I tended to want pure and fresh foods, eaten with intention and reverence.  My diet styles shifted and changed.  I had jars of sprouts growing and ground my flax seeds and balanced non animal proteins and felt quite virtuous and a little smug too.  Wasn’t I just being so pure?  In point of fact, wasn’t I just deceiving myself?  Every morning, before I began my formal meditation, my mind wandered through all the yamas and niyamas, giving myself a kind of check list of how I was faring on the spiritual path of yoga. Did I notice that, while I thought I scored high on some measures,  I still lacked forgiveness.  I was harsh in my  judgment of others and myself.  I only understood the baby steps of these concepts.  I had a long way to go…

Only when the purification REALLY began to happen, in my mind and heart, in actions and thoughts, did I know for sure I was actually doing something transformational.

Here are a few ideas to consider.  For some they are baby steps.  For others, they may be old hat.  It never hurts to be a beginner again.

  • Look at your body.  Is there something you can do today to help to purify and nurture your body?  Maybe you will drink some glasses of pure clean water or have a cup of green tea.  Perhaps you will do some yoga stretches or take a walk outside.  How about not eating that hot dog loaded with additives?  You may wish to speak to your body about how much you appreciate it.  Whatever you choose, let it be filled with love and pleasure.
  • Try changing your attitude towards something that is routine, like vacuuming the rug or taking out the trash. Think of it as purifying and cleansing.  Imbue it with positive energy.  Cleaning out a closet could be like this.  Or taking away clothing you no longer wear and giving it to others who would appreciate those garments.
  • Take a moment to see how you are thinking.  Clean up the “closet” of your thoughts? Like getting rid of complaining and negativity, judging and arguing.  You might even consider a little silence, giving your mind a chance to rest and be quiet.  Or you could meditate for a bit of time or extend you meditation.

Ultimately, the following  are the words I like best.  I could not find the attribution, so I am not sure who made this point, but, nonetheless:

The only “dirt” is Avidya, ignorance of the True Self.

When you know who you are and that you are Divine Light and Love, your heart sings, and everything else is window dressing.

With love and namaste, Deanne

For more writings and on the Yoga Sutras, go to http://www.deannemincer.com