Wednesday, April 1, 2009

A Lesson in Tapas

I lifted my head from child’s pose and glanced across the studio at my Mom. She was lying outstretched on her back, collapsed in a disheveled sivasana. Her head rolled towards me and our eyes met. “I suck,” she mouthed silently. I shook my head and we both giggled.

At 51 years old, having never experienced an Ashtanga class, Mom decided to build her upon her five years of yoga teaching by enrolling in a nine-day Ashtanga Teacher Training. I tried to caution her about the style’s vigor, but as I didn’t want to be discouraging my warnings were too subtle and she was not dissuaded.

On the third day of the training, I was allowed to attend the morning’s Mysore practice. As I moved through the Primary Series I witnessed Mom struggle with each posture. She was so sore from the previous two mornings that each movement was heavy and raw. The kind, gifted teacher David Garrigues nursed her with encouragement and modifications, even suggesting that she take a break. But through the aches and obvious struggle she continued on.

Tapas, a Niyama of the Eight-Fold Path of the Yoga Sutras, is understood to mean purification through heat as well as discipline. Looking into her exhausted eyes, I felt privileged to behold a person focused enough to transcend limits of the mind, heart, and body. This was not a woman who sucked at yoga, but one who through the purity of her efforts was true tapas in action.

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