Tapas is a sanskrit concept that means discipline. The word entails an act of a refining fire, of intentionally placing oneself in discomfort in order to purify & refine. It is the discipline that produces commitment.
This concept has been a focus for me this past year. It began in the start of 2018, and began rather small. I started writing down my classes. My teaching process at the time was more organic and off-the-cuff. My preparation included taking cues from my personal practice, observing and distilling what was coming up for me on my mat and meditating on what needed to be taught that day to the people who showed up to class. I would have a loose idea of what was going to happen but not a full sequence planned out. Every class was different… one week later, I would not be able to remember what I taught on a given day. I wanted to have a catalogue of my classes and to be able to look back and actually remember what I taught. So I began to write down my sequences, and after writing them down, I began to teach them multiple times over the course of a week. There might be tweaks here or there, but essentially the class would be the same.
The new discipline of recording my classes evolved into spending more time with them, on paper, on my own mat and in my teaching. It sparked a deeper evolution of my teaching process, with the concept of tapas becoming more central. My process is similar but has become more specific and nuanced. I still begin with my personal practice. Without the devotion to my own practice my teaching wouldn’t be the same. I’ve had a strong home practice for a few years, however infusing it with tapas has super-charged my personal practice. I have to give myself the time each week, whether I feel like it or not. And when I give myself the time, I must be in the freedom of practicing for me, not in the place of cooking up a sequence. This is a tricky task. Since I’m aware that what I teach comes from what I’m discovering on my mat, my thinking mind sometimes takes over, and says, ‘lets cook up a sequence.’ When I catch myself thinking that (and really, it is a pressure I’m creating and putting on myself, to deliver a new and interesting sequence each week) I close my eyes and attempt to disengage from the thinking mind and move into an experience of the body, sensation and breath.
I discover patterns and themes, and write them down. Over the week that I’m teaching the class I’ll do the practice myself 2 or 3 times and make adjustments as necessary. This has become one of my favorite rituals. Since I know class already, creative energy does not have to be used, I can simply move, breath and feel. And I use this time to explore the sequence and the poses so I can better teach them in class.
Under the umbrella of ‘practice’ I include studying non-yoga modalities of movement, anatomy and kinematics and yoga philosophy. I let all of this information seep into my consciousness and as the information is digested I see things I’ve studied being expressed in my body or words.
I had also felt the call to share with my classes some of the non-physical, philosophical lessons I was munching on. Just like working out a class sequences, figuring out exactly how I feel and finding the correct words to express my thoughts on something takes time and energy. For most of my teaching career I’ve not been much of a ‘soul talk’ type teacher. I was worried I would cause harm with my words. A hamstring is a hamstring, there is little room for emotional muddiness there. But who am I to tell a room full of people how to live their lives? I also I realized that I’m confident teaching the body because I spend lots of time studying the body. In order to share the ‘living’ aspect of the yoga practice I had to give it time and energy, just like the physical. And with this I began to include journaling in my umbrella of practice. Writing allows me to try things on, to create a communication of an intricate concept that hopefully is clear and concise and resonates without causing harm.
Last year while leading yoga teacher training I had Jaime Robbins come as a guest speaker to give her talk about authenticity. She had offered this as a workshop before but I didn’t attended because 1- I didn’t think I had anything to learn about authenticity and 2- I especially didn’t have anything to learn from a peer.
I was wrong.
Looking back I can see it was this moment that sparked my discipline, Jaime’s talk. I learned so much, and am still gleaning, processing and manifesting everything I learned. I think the biggest lesson I learned was that I STILL HAVE STUFF I NEED TO LEARN. This was reinforced this past summer when I attended a yoga retreat. I went with an open mind and heart, no expectations. The experience cracked me wide open and revealed things about me that I didn’t know were (still) there. I wrote about it in the previous blog post and shared it with the women who were on retreat with me. One of them replied, “Wow! Thanks for sharing your feelings and process. I’m kind of surprised because you seemed like the most stable of the group!” Ha! My stability and contentment fooled me into thinking I didn’t have room to grow. And once I realized that, I saw how limiting it is!
What began as a simple commitment to writing down a sequence after I taught it snowballed into an evolution not only of my teaching process but of MYSELF. The lesson of 2018 was “you still have lessons to learn.”
I’m heading into this year with continued devotion and discipline to the practice, and a heart of willingness, to be taught, to listen, to receive and to grow.
I am eternally grateful to Jaime for her brave honesty and HER discipline to write and share her writings. Connect with Jaime at her website http://www.jaimethinksaydo.com