Philosophy Series: Turning Up Again… and Again


This week’s Philosophy Series is looking at the concept of Tapas – typically translated from Sanskrit as discipline.

The word discipline can provoke a variety of feelings from flashbacks to school and strict teachers to associating it with the regimented life of an army officer.

It can for some feel like a constricting concept that they sought to escape as soon as they left the school gates for the last time.

Yet it can be an incredibly useful and rewarding concept to consider. The strength and elegance of gymnasts and dancers is achieved usually with a degree of discipline. The best-selling novel required some discipline by the writer to turn up and write every day. We all need a degree of discipline to ensure we turn up at work and achieve targets we are set.

The very act of me writing this short blog post is an act of discipline in that I have a list of other things I would like to get on with but I have committed to turning up and putting something up on my website on much more regular basis than I used to. (Let’s see how long this lasts!)

The sutra that contains the concept of tapas reads as follows (in transalation) –

“Through committed discipline we remove impurities and strengthen our personal power.”*

Creating a sense of “committed discipline” is a powerful way to create changes that you want to create it your life. It’s quite empowering in some respects. It says, ‘you are in charge’ and in it is in your hands to change your approach and create new habits.

People often talk about ‘natural talent’ or ‘aptitude’ for music, maths or sport – but I think a huge part of the difference between being mediocre and brilliant at what you do is practice.

A commitment to turning up to training, a disciplined approach to practising your scales [a skill I totally failed in by the way when I gave up piano at 11!], or a concerted effort to study.

When you turn up at a yoga class, you can’t always expect to get everything or manage every pose – whether you are a beginner or more experienced. It can be hugely frustrating!

But I would suggest that with ‘committed discipline’ and turning up each week – or when you can – will slowly encourage a shift until you may find you have that “A HA” moment where something that seemed impossible works!

Of course, this all comes with the caveat of not all poses are right for all bodies – depending on injuries, anatomy or stage of life. And there will be poses that elude you for years… and that doesn’t matter and hopefully shouldn’t impede your enjoyment of yoga.

The practice of Tapas also invites us to exploring being in discomfort. In a physical yoga practice your resilience is tested by staying in Warrior 2 or plank longer than you might want to. You build resilience physically and mentally as you work to maintain focus.

There is a risk that people push tapas too far in that they push into physical pain in a pose which over time could cause injury. Tapas is not about trying to nail something the first time or push a body into an extreme or damaging range of motion. [There are ways of training greater flexibility in a sustainable way]

In a physical yoga practice, I would say it is best to explore being a bit uncomfortable and having to work for a pose – but at no point should you thinking sharp pain is best. If you have stopped breathing and gritted your teeth to hold a position – I’d say that’s a good indication to back off.

Rather than trying to achieve immediate success, Tapas invites us all to form good habits and instil small shifts in our behaviour or thought processes that may eventually yield greater results.

One of the books I’ve referred to regularly in this series says: “Our successes aren’t single events. They are the result of many small decisions followed by simple daily disciplines we practice every day.”**

What small change might you make that you could commit to on a regular basis? Could it be writing for 10 minutes a day, could it be walking 6,000 steps a day, could it be phoning a friend once a week to check in?

It’s something I’d like to explore more. Can commitment to a habit or a project wield results? Can it empower us to realise what we want to achieve?

I think Tapas can be viewed as “turning up”. Turning up at class regularly or putting your trainers on and stepping outside for a run each weekend or sitting down with your notebook for 10 minutes at lunchtime.

By just turning up, who knows what you could discover about yourself.

And one final note on this theme. It is crucial to balance out the “committed discipline” of Tapas with all the other concepts we’ve looked at. It’s always worth balancing out ‘discipline’ with Ahimsa or kindness.

Tapas doesn’t not – in my opinion – require us to self-flagellate ourselves when we trip up or we don’t stick to something. It does not call for us to judge ourselves or others negatively, but gently encourages us to form empowering habits to benefit us and those around us.

And now time to pat myself on the back for completing another post!

* & ** Living the Sutras – Kelly DiNardo & Amy Pearce-Hayden


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