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yogi’s guide to public health: tapas

There’s probably not a lot we need to tell you about discipline right now, but tapas is the third niyama or observance laid out in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, so we’ll share some thoughts.

The word tapas comes from the Sanskrit root “tap,” meaning heat. We get the English word temperature from this same root.

Heat comes from friction. From opposing forces competing for direction. In this moment, we can feel the friction between how we’d like to be living and the restrictions we’re living under. Staying at home, avoiding our friends, wearing a mask, constantly washing our hands, sanitizing our groceries… not to mention meeting the needs of our kids, partners, parents, pets…

Discipline is the effort of staying in the heat. Discipline is not easy.

But have you ever changed from easeful circumstances? Heat is painful, but it creates change. It burns away impurities and allows new possibilities to emerge. The feeling of ease we crave only ever comes as a result of doing the work, of withstanding the heat and letting the fire of transformation do its job.

So feel the frustration. Chafe at the restrictions. Submit to the limitations. And let the friction of this moment create the heat needed to transform you.

It’s tempting to ease up. We’ve been accommodating the “new normal” for a while now. It’s tempting to think:

• I’ve done enough
• If I’m not sick yet, I probably don’t have it
• These restrictions don’t apply to me
• I don’t know anyone who’s sick
• I’m sure I’m fine

Not so fast.

Tapas is the practice of knowing that there’s something greater at stake than our personal hardships. As tired as we are of living under compromised conditions, we can’t resume our “normal” lives yet. Discipline is accepting that we must stay the course.

Yes, this mode of living is uncomfortable. Sacrifice is inconvenient by definition. But it serves a higher purpose. Not only are our sacrifices required to flatten the curve and save lives, they may also just be the catalyst we need to evolve us into kinder, more compassionate, more patient, more grateful people. And isn’t that why we came to yoga in the first place?