“Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.”
The Serenity Prayer, Reinhold Niebuhr (1892-1971)
This month I am teaching on the theme of Niyama (or five yogic principles of self care).
The third of the niyama is tapas.
When translated from Sanskrit, tapas literally means ‘heat’. It is the heat that we create when we confront our habits, or the things we have become habituated to. It is often described as ‘discipline’ but I prefer to think of it as moving away from our comfort zone, or “sitting uncomfortably”.
We do this each time we step on our yoga mat and find a new way of moving, or an unusual position or stance to take – and we might literally feel hot afterwards.
We might also “sit uncomfortably” when we confront our thoughts or beliefs. We may have habitual ways of thinking are limiting us, or even contributing to harm in the world around us. Recently I have been learning about white supremacy and white privilege (or ‘unlearning’ as writer Layla Saad calls it) . It does not feel comfortable to learn about British colonialism, the ripples of harm that continue to spread, and my complicity as a white woman in systemic injustice – but it is important not to turn away from that if I want to be part of meaningful change.
Tapas must always be in balance with samtosa – the niyama I wrote about last week where we are contented or at ease (Blooming In Your Own Way). Tapas is the discipline of finding this ease on a regular basis, as well as the discipline of embracing discomfort. There is discipline in any act done with consistency and conviction – even the simple act of resting for twenty minutes every day.
Before you go to your edge, do you know how to get back to your centre?
Confronting White Supremacy and White Privilege
This article has been widely shared recently. It was written in 1988 and is sadly still as relevant today as ever. I invite you to read it if you haven’t already, and to make space to confront racism everywhere it still exists – even within ourselves.
Peggy Mackintosh – Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack
This analysis is helpful and explains how the systemic problems of our economic system, racism, and environmental crisis are all linked.
Guided Relaxation – Feeling and Sensing
This practice begins with an explanation the concepts of tapas, svadyaya and isvara pranidhana and their relevance to the practice of savasana.