“A worthy aim makes life illumined, pure and divine. Without such an aim, action and prayer have no value. Life without tapas is like a heart without love.” – BKS Iyengar
It's the beginning of a New Year - a time when many people like to make resolutions. We like the idea of being able to wipe the slate clean and start anew. For many people the concept of a new year motivates them to start cultivating positive changes in their lives. Those changes might include diet, exercise, making financial improvements, releasing addictions or bad habits, learning new things, visiting new places, cultivating new hobbies, or dedicating ourselves to a spiritual practice. The reality is that we are offered a new opportunity every single day when the sun comes up to cultivate positive choices and make positive changes in our lives. But, to do this, it's important to examine, through self-study, what stops us from making change or from continuing down the path of improvement, as well as what motivates you to continue moving forward? In the 8-Limb Ashtanga practice of yoga we talk about cultivating "Tapas" as one of the 5 "Niyamas" or "inner observances" that guide our spiritual journey or practice. "Tapas" literally translated means "Heat" and refers to the practice of "stoking our inner fire". Stoking the inner fire, can be translated as burning away the obstacles that block our spiritual path and our ultimate union with the Divine. Tapas also refers to cultivating discipline on our path. Discipline, willpower and motivation go hand and hand. We must first have the willpower to make positive change, then motivate ourselves to move forward and cultivate the discipline to continue along the path towards liberation. Think about: What motivates you? What "lights your fire"? In order to do that, it is helpful to identify what your obstacles are, as well as what motivates you to move forwards on our journey. My intention is to offer you a practice you may find helpful in that process...This is a short meditation that uses guided imagery as a focus for the mind. You could start your day with this meditation, or use it anytime you need a boost of motivation towards your goals. (There is a recorded version of this on my Facebook page). A word of caution before we begin: I am using a breathing practice in this meditation that involves breath retention or holding the breath in - This may be contraindicated if you have high blood pressure, COPD, vertigo, anxiety or other neurological or cardiovascular disorder in this moment, and you may prefer to just practice focusing on your breath and lengthening the exhale as you breathe - resting in that space before you inhale again - which is a more relaxing breath. Choose whichever breathing practice works for you. To begin, find a comfortable sit where you can sit for 10 - 15 minutes with a long spine. If this means supporting your back with a chair or wall, please do so.
We will use the mudra Shivalingam for this practice. "Shiva is the deity associated with fervent commitment to spirtual practice. Linga is the symbol of Shiva's spiritual power." (From "Mudras for Healing and Transformation" by Joseph and Lilian LePage). This gesture directs breath, awareness and energy or prana towards the solar plexus, or 3rd chakra - the center of our personal power. By directing our focus and energy here, we are able to cultivate determination and remove obstacles that prevent us from moving forward on our spiritual journey. Place your left hand, palm facing upwards in front of your abdomen. Make your right hand into a fist and place it on top of your left hand, with the right thumb extending upwards. (See photo at right.)
Next, Close your eyes or focus your gaze softly downwards. Begin to focus on your breath. Take a deep breath in through your nose, and notice how the breath is directed to the solar plexus while holding this mudra. At the top of the breath pause and slowly exhale the air out. Take several more breaths in this manner, each time, pausing at the top a little longer. It may be helpful to count. Inhale 1-2-3-4. Pause 1-2. Exhale 1-2-3-4. Inhale 1-2-3-4. Pause 1-2-3. Exhale. 1-2-3-4. Inhale 1-2-3-4. Pause 1-2-3-4. Exhale 1-2-3-4. See if you can work up to pausing for a count of 6 or 8 before releasing. Again pay attention to how you feel and do not overexert yourself. If you find it helpful, you might direct your gaze towards the 3rd eye, just above your nose, and imagine a candle flame burning there. Take several breaths focusing on this flame as you direct your gaze inwards. Now, set an Intention for yourself. What goal would you like to achieve this day, this month or this year? State this intention to yourself 3 times in the present tense. Such as, I am quitting smoking. Or, I am going to eat healthy today. Or, I am mindful in my words today. Or I am a more compassionate person today. Envision yourself achieving this goal - What does that look like to you? You may see yourself healthy or in a new career, or practicing a new hobby. Now, envision what obstacles might keep you from achieving this goal. Obstacles can be physical things like lack of resources or finances or they can be more abstract like fear or apathy. IF the obstacles are more abstract, you may imagine them as a color or if no image appears for you, you could see the word fear or apathy on a piece of paper. Now, Imagine releasing these obstacles into the fire. See the obstacles burn in the fire, as the fire grows hotter. Hear the crackle of the flames. Smell the scent of burning wood. Feel the heat from the fire. Take a deep breath in and see your goal - your intention. As you exhale let go of your obstacle(s). Inhale inspiration. Exhale and release obstacles. Do this several times. When you are ready, gently release the mudra. Place your hands palms face down on your lap to ground you. Take your time, coming back to the present moment. Notice how you feel. Open your eyes. If you like, if you are feeling inspired you could journal about anything that may have come up for you during this mediation, or make a concrete list of steps to move forwards to your goal. You may want to move into an asana practice or any other practice at this time. You can find an example of this guided meditation on my Shining Waters Yoga Facebook page as well - so you can simply press play and listen to me guide you through it. There is also a short yoga practice for cultivating Tapas! Wishing you health, wellness, motivation for your practice and abundance in 2018! Namaste.