February Experiment of the Month | Tapas

Our Experiment of the Month for February is the third Niyama, “Tapas.” Literally, this word means “to heat” or “to cleanse,” and is sometimes translated as “austerity” or “discipline.” For our experiment, we can also look at this principle as “Determined and Consistent Practice.”

T.K.V. Desikachar, in his book “The Heart of Yoga” (one of the most transformational books I have ever read), says that tapas is a process of inner cleansing, something we do to keep ourselves physically and mentally healthy.

Asana and pranayama - the physical and breathing exercises of yoga - are tapas. These exercises are a means to get rid of blocks and impurities, to influence our whole system positively.  

Desikachar also suggests that attention to body posture, attention to eating habits, and attention to breathing patterns are also tapas. Tapas makes the whole body fit and well-functioning, as we remove things that we do not need. He says it is the same principle as heating gold to purify it.

All this sounds wonderful in theory, however I tend to hit a snag or two when trying to put this concept into my everyday life.

I’m prone to an “all-or-nothing” pattern of thinking, and making steady, gradual progress in yoga is a big departure from my usual style of totally changing everything about my life in one day, making one mistake the next day, and then giving the whole thing up soon after because I “failed.”

I really appreciate what Judith Lasater has to say about tapas in this article on the niyamas https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.yogajournal.com/.amp/yoga-101/cultivate-your-connections

 In the section on tapas, she mentions another pattern I can fall prey to when trying to bring discipline to my practice - that many people mistakenly equate discipline with difficulty (Me!). She points out that difficulty does not in itself make a practice transformational - it can create impediments, since the ego is drawn to battle with difficulty!

 I appreciate, and want to share, what Lasater offers as a better way to understand tapas. She says to think of it as consistency in striving toward your goals.

 I’m starting off this month’s experiment by setting an intention to observe, on a daily basis, what practices I am doing consistently. I know some of these daily practices are things I have strong feelings of aversion about - the things that I do that are NOT tapas. But my goal at the moment is to pay attention to my current state, to see the truth about myself. From my experience so far, I can say that when I dedicate myself to seeing clearly, right action, transformation and freedom naturally follow. There’s initial discomfort in looking squarely at myself - some intense heat - so rather than let that deter me, I’ll call it tapas, and stick with it!

January Experiment of the Month | Santosha

January’s experiment of the month at Mudita lab was Santosha, which can be translated as contentment. Santosha is deep stuff! A blog post can’t truly do it justice but if you didn’t get a chance to take part in the exploration with us, perhaps this bite will inspire you to check it out for yourself. I highly recommend it.
 

Normally when I think of contentment, I think of happiness and instead, what I have discovered throughout this exploration is that Santosha is something much more profound than mere happiness and that much less is required to access it. In my imagining of “happiness”, I have all that I want and need and everything in my life is going more or less the way I want it to. In my experience of Santosha, all of these conditions can be absent and yet I can still glimpse and even hold the peace of Santosha in my heart for moments. With practice, I suspect these moments can be extended longer and longer. Opportunities for practicing Santosha are available in the most ordinary of circumstances.

 

The other day, I caught sight of my hair in the mirror and observed myself thinking how I hate my hair, its fine texture and its straightness. In practicing Santosha, I notice my aversion to my hair. I catch myself in this aversion and then I simply let go of it in the moment, like we let go of thoughts in meditation. In the pause, I can move into acceptance of the reality of my hair, as it is. In this simple shift, a door opens to contentment and to not wanting or needing to change anything but surrendering and accepting things as they are. If I walk through that door, I am welcomed into a warm feeling of ease, an exhale of relief at not having to fight with reality and being stuck in unhappiness over that which I cannot change. A sweet feeling of satisfaction is my reward.
 

In another instance this month, I found myself bristling at the cold and thinking how I can’t wait for the spring. I’m often thinking about all the things I can’t wait for. How many times do we say that we can’t wait for something? All too often we are waiting for joy or peace and chasing the conditions we believe will create it, but real and lasting joy can only spring from within, never from external conditions. This month, I heard that thought differently in my mind and realized that to not be able to wait means to not be able to stay in the here and now; it means I can’t be present until it warms up outside! Upon noticing that irrational thought and the aversion and craving contained within it, I realized that I can wait and in fact I must wait. In the meantime, I can choose; choose to stay and breathe and be satisfied with the reality before me and maybe even find a little gratitude. That brings me into the equanimity and comfort of Santosha once again.


Now don’t go worrying that you’ll never be motivated to do anything ever again if you’re just sitting around all satisfied and content for the rest of your life. With practice, you will come to see that you can use Santosha skillfully, where and when it’s needed. So instead of making new year’s resolutions this year about all the things you’ll change or do in order to be happy, perhaps try the simple practice of Santosha instead. It continues to be a rich and rewarding inquiry for me and keeps me on the path towards peace.


 

July Focus of the Month | Ahimsa

In July we begin a 10 month study of the Yamas and Niyamas. There are 5 Yamas and 5 Niyamas, so we will spend a month on each.

The Yamas can be defined as touch stones to inform and guide our relationship with ourselves and the external world around us. The Niyamas offer guidance and wisdom to skillfully take care of our more subtle internal world. These teachings come from The Yoga Sutra by the sage Patanjali, written at least 1,7000 years ago.

The Yoga Sutra is a guidebook to classic yoga, laying out 8 limbs. This 8 fold path begins with the Yamas and Niyamas (described above); followed by asana (physical postures), pranayama (breath work), pratyahara (withdrawal of the senses), dharana (concentration), dhyana (meditation), samadhi (an ongoing unshakeable state of Pure Awareness).

I'm really excited about sharing these teachings and exploring them together! That the Sutras are over 1,700 years old and still totally relevant and relatable speaks to their power and universality. Getting to know the 8 limbs of yoga, experientially, as we talk about each and apply them in class will help us all evolve our practice, on and off the mat.

The first Yama is ahimsa. Defined as non-violence. This is step one in a skillful yoga practice; being aware of ways that we hurt ourselves and others. In small ways and big ways. In our thoughts, words and actions. As we bring awareness to these harmful habits and patterns, they begin to dissolve. More thoughts on ahimsa later in the month...

June Focus of the Month | Expansion

Consciusness Expanding | This is a teaching from my teacher Shiva Rudra BalaYogi ( http://www.shivarudrabalayogi.org/about/shivarudra-balayogi )

I give another example also. Like every time I have said, in this town where you are living, somebody asks you where are you from you will mention your street name, house number something like that. But if you go out of this town if people ask where are you from you will mention I am from this town. And then when you go out of this state you will mention that you are from this state. If you go out of your country you will tell I am from this country, you won't be mentioning that small street or home number. So like that your consciousness is expanding from the small home, small street now you belong to a big country. All countrymen are like your brothers and sisters. So if you get a chance to go out to another planet when you meet somebody else also from the Earth, “Oh I am also from planet Earth, you are also from planet Earth!” You feel that that oneness. “Oh, we are brothers and from the same planet, Earth.” See the consciousness expanding. This is what is non-dualism. 

    When you meditate you realize we all belong to one single space. The space is home for all of us in which all the worlds exist, no matter how many worlds exist we don’t know. But still all of us exist in one space. So all of us are like brothers and sisters belonging to one home that is the realization of non-dualism eventually when you practice meditation.

June Focus of the Month | Expansion

We just started talking about EXPANSION and already so many questions and thoughts have come up. Things like... considering the balance between expansion and contraction... is empathy expansion or contraction or both?... If I am going to expand, first I need to locate myself... Is meditation expansive? This month is going to be interesting!

May Focus of the Month | Love

Inspired by our book club reading (Bell Hooks, All About Love: New Visions) we will spend May reflecting on Love. A few thoughts on love from the book, "The lack of an ongoing public discussion about the practice of love in our culture and in our lives means that we still look to books as a primary source of guidance and direction... The truth is, far too many people in our culture do not know what love is. And this not knowing feels like a terrible secret, a lack that we have to cover up... To begin by always thinking of love as an action rather than a feeling is one way in which anyone using the word in this manner automatically assumes accountability and responsibility... When we are loving we openly and honestly express care, affection, responsibility, respect, commitment, and trust." We will engage in discussion to explore these and other thoughts, let's see where it takes us. The focus on Love is also a good opportunity to practice some loving-kindness meditation!

April Focus of the Month | Mind Your Own Business #2

We covered a lot of ground with this FOM. Starting with some resistance to the mantra "Mind Your Own Business". Many people had a reaction, feeling like it was harsh or scolding based on their past experience with this phrase. After some time I got reports of this old pattern dissolving and an opportunity for thoughtful contemplation arising.

We contemplated and talked about the meaning of "minding". One person suggested it's like "minding the store" - another "tending to" - and another talked about "taking care of". Then came some discussion of what is our "own business". Everyone pretty much agreed that taking good care of our bodies and minds falls solidly in the category of "Minding Our Own Business". But what in the external world is our business? With this questions we circled back to where we started with the Eckhart Tolle quote, suggesting that if we work on evolving our internal world, taking care of the external world will happen naturally.

With a month of contemplation behind me, I have a new understanding of this quote. I believe Eckhart Tolle is referring to an expanded sense of self (the opposite of an inflated sense of self). As I work on bringing balance to my internal world through the practice of yoga (meditation, daily mindfulness, movement, breathe awareness), my sense of self expands and simultaneously what is my "business" expands. Because this expansion is born out of mindfulness, I don't need to subscribe to or create any rules about what is or isn't my business. I simply keep paying attention, taking care of the internal, working on being mindful; and then the external, the knowing how to respond to the world in each moment, more and more, begins to fall into place.

April Focus of the Month | Mind Your Own Business #1

I'm told that whenever anybody asked, Ananda Ashram Founder, Shri Brahmananda Sarasvati (Guruji) for a mantra, he always gave the same one; "mind your own business". This can be interpreted and used in so many ways, all of them really useful. Meditation is one really good way to get good at minding our own business. We will discuss this and other thoughts as we explore and unpack this mantra throughout April. This quote from Eckhart Tolle is a good place to start, it captures the spirit of Guruji's mantra clearly and concisely - "Be at least as interested in what goes on inside you as what happens outside. If you get the inside right, the outside will fall into place."

March Focus of the Month | Peaceful Warrior

We say we want peace in the world, but we are not each peaceful ourselves. My teacher Babaji talks about this state of confusion: thinking that the external world is where we will find peace, believing that changing things externally is the path to freedon. If this person would did this, if this situation was different, if this person didn't do this, if this group would just be more... or less... This is how the dialogue goes for most of us. And so we circle around and around, never getting much closer to peace (internally or externally).

I think we look to the external world first because it seems easier; we look to the external world because it is so challenging to look internally. Our internal worlds are filled with unease, messiness and parts of ourselves that we don't want to see. In comes the Peaceful Warrior! This archetype is often used in yoga teachings because it takes a warriors dedication, determination and patience to be aware of our internal world, allow for it all and let it go.

The practice of yoga helps us cultivate this warrior like dedication, determination and patience. It gives us tools and weapons to use: yoga postures, breathing exercises, meditation, mantra and chanting to name a few. For example, I'm feeling uneasy as I'm driving to meet someone, I chant OM. I notice that I'm hunched over and tensing my jaw as I'm washing the dishes, I take a few conscious exhale breaths. I'm comparing my triangle pose to my neighbor on the mat next to me, I silently repeat the mantra, "mind your own business". Each time I engage in one of these practice, little by little i move in the direction of peace. A true, lasting and unshakeable Peace; untouched by the external world.

February Focus of the Month | Division

A word that conjures up many thoughts. And not all good. However, I believe that whatever exists in our reality exists for a reason, that is, it is there to serve some purpose. Division is no different. For example, if the concept of oneness is too big for us to conceive then division helps us to see the universe in ways that we can. If oneness exists, if in fact there is a way to understand the universe as operating on this level, it is beyond my comprehension right now. Thus understanding that a divide does exist between me and the refrigerator is truly useful, for without it I would just be labeled as crazy.

This word can be explored from the all too obvious social constructs that we see so clearly in the world today, but also from a more traditional yogic place of how we divide mind and body. Perhaps if we can safely explore the divide then we can also unify and begin to see the whole - mind & body.

January Focus of the Month | How Can I Help You?

A simple question perhaps, but if it was it wouldn’t be our focus of the month. The focus of the month is about looking at something deeper. Getting past the initial thoughts, attitudes, judgements and finding more meaning. It is the mindfulness practice, something which we cultivate with each movement, breadth, and moment of stillness, but applied to our intellect. What thoughts come up as we consider asking and being asked the question: How can I help you?