I’m still thinking about the tapas/pratyahara thing, how much crap I have to burn out of myself, when I thought about the whole 2020 thing and then how much crap the world has to burn out of itself. The new year doesn’t actually mean all the crap is over. Sometimes I feel super helpless about all that’s wrong and I hide from it by eating cookies for breakfast and playing a game on my phone for too long. I don’t really know how to fix the world, but at least I have some ideas about how to burn all that bad stuff out of myself.
Yesterday I briefly brought up tapas as a means to pratyahara. Tapas is kind of like using intensity to build a cleansing fire inside you. Chair pose is a great example, because in that crazy position, when you’re trying to sit lower and lift your chest (lowest hips, highest heart), you’re building heat from your breath, you’re activating uddhiyana bandha (that’s the energy lock in your belly) and you’re doing it all on top of manipura chakra, that’s your seat of personal power. Obviously, nobody thinks that the heat you’re building there (which is tangible and obvious) is actual fire and that all the impurities in your body are collected there for convenient burning out. But, the struggle and passion and discipline it takes to stay will give you perspective. Like, does all that stuff that I was stressed about really matter anymore? It’s meditative suffering.
My old teacher used to put us in chair sometimes and leave the room. For like, five to seven minutes. We all knew we could come out, we could take a break, fold forward, whatever we wanted. We could, right? What was stopping us? She did that because she knew she had taught us that we’re responsible for our own lives. I used to like to put my students in brutally long holds, then tell them, “Don’t stay here because I said to, or because you think you should. Stay here because you want to, because it feels good, because it’s doing something good for you.” If we came out of chair because our teacher wasn’t watching anymore, what good was that going to do us? I think this is a lot like the attitude of gratitude thing, where if you can change your perspective just a little bit, you suddenly see the worthiness of your struggle. In all those years I practiced with her several times a week in a packed studio, I never saw anyone come out.
When I was 18, I got a tattoo on the back of my neck. I had taken like six years of French, and I already had the idea that I wanted this word that we don’t have in English, but I knew this French girl and I asked her what “ardeur” meant. She said, “The fire that burns bright inside and can’t be put out.” It was actually that same year that I got into yoga, and when I’ve developed this mixed definition of tapas and manipura. Manipura, your third chakra, is your seat of personal power, it’s the lustrous jewel, and tapas is the fire that burns the dross and the garabage off of it and around it to purify your sense of self and your strength by means of austerity. If that metaphor’s not doing it for you, there’s gold in the dumpster, the dumpster is full of ignorance and hatred and fear, and the tapas is the dumpster fire (and YOU are the gold).
So what’s the reward for doing all this work? I think what you’re burning out is the kleshas, the five causes of suffering (ego, ignorance, attachment, avoidance, and fear). I tend to be obsessive, that attachment causes a lot of stress for me, and I can burn it up with tapas. I have some social anxiety and avoid friends sometimes, that doesn’t make me happier, I can burn that anxiousness up with tapas. Sometimes I’ll dwell on a misunderstanding or a bad interaction, I can burn that up with tapas, too. Pratyahara is withdrawal from the senses, it’s sort of like a preliminary meditation, or a building block for the more intensely meditative limbs coming up. Tapas is a good entry to pratyahara because once you’re so uncomfortable or even in pain (pain feels like a strong word, but have you ever held chair or high lunge or Pattabhi Jois forbid, warrior 3 for five minutes?!) if you choose to stay there, you must give up focus on the suffering, and focus on your inner strength, or the communal energy in the room, and that’s how you get out of your body (you are not this body, you are so much more than that). You are not this dumpster fire, you are so much more than that 😉.