Following the Footsteps of Passion

Being passionate about something implies a strong emotional attachment to or enthusiasm for something. Passionate people often seem as if they have a fire burning within them when they talk about what they feel passionate about. It is their passion that, more often than not, fuels the choices they make and which acts as a compass to align them with their goals, ambitions and desires.

The concept of passion can be linked to that of tapas in yoga. Tapas is often described as austerity or discipline. When I think of these two concepts the words flooding my mind are: an unbending attitude; sternness; severity; rigidity. Often this is exactly how people engage with it, but tapas, when seen from another angle, has more to do with a dedicated, sincere, enthusiastic and life-enhancing attitude that creates a healthy disciplined commitment, than one that is too rigid and limiting. When we become too rigid in our approach to life we catapult ourselves into a life of imbalance and intolerance.

Patanjali, in his 8 limb yoga system, classifies tapas under the niyamas or observances that we should follow to guide us towards and perhaps through a spiritual transformation process. When we misuse tapas or discipline we are sure to become over-worked and stressed. The drive to succeed or achieve in the fast-paced culture we live in, is often a smoke screen for a deeper pain we are reluctant to face, or in many instances don’t even know exist. And so we start a vicious circle that drives us to burn-out.

Judith Lasater says that “a better way to understand tapas is to think of it as consistency in striving towards your goals”. This consistency may be found in maintaining a regular yoga practice, without beating yourself up when you miss a class or two; by reading uplifting and inspirational books; by having a positive attitude towards life or simply by surrounding yourself with kind-hearted people. The daily practising of tapas is unique to all of us, as we simply do not all need the same things. What is aiding my spiritual quest may be a severe hindrance to yours. Through defining and refining our goals, and by measuring them to our values and spiritual yearnings, we are able to use tapas as the light guiding us towards the achievement of our goals.

Robert Butera calls discipline a “process of abstaining from those activities that negatively affect you and engaging in those that enrich you”. And by engaging in those activities that enrich us, we may even encounter what may be perceived as laziness or alasya: taking long slow walks – not to get exercise, but simply to enjoy the movement of the moment; sitting in the garden or on a park bench without any planned agenda or glimpse at your watch – breathing in life; or simply sitting on your mat – waiting for your body to move where it wants, without any input from your mind. To this I say, “bring on the laziness”, as it is in these moments that I feel content and free from obligation.

It is when I am on my mat without a plan or a goal that I feel most alive. And as my body slowly starts to move, I become aware of the delicate interplay between effort and release; between giving and letting go. It is in that transformative moment of surrender that I fully accept my life: no longer am I fighting the limitations of my body to achieve the ‘perfect’ postures I have seen in books; no longer am I pushing through discomfort or pain – I am simply allowing my body to be where it is; accepting it; loving it; expecting nothing, yet receiving in abundance. It is in the moment of surrender that I understand what it means to “just be”: I simply am.

Tapas can be the quiet surrender to the beauty of any particular moment, or the fiery desire that motivates us to create change. Whatever it is for you, discover it, embrace it and follow it!

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1 Comment

  1. November 18, 2011 at 2:31 pm

    Wonderful, thanks for sharing this! It’s sad to see that in today’s fitness obsessed yoga world our practice can at times be characterised by self hatred instead of compassion. Perseverance and discipline are crucial, but then – it’s not a sport, it’s not a competition. It’s a journey to ourselves.


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