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Key to Life: Tapas

Many years before I was familiar with Yoga & Tapas, I recall observing the practice of discipline in every day living.  For instance, my Father regularly changed the oil in the cars.  He would tell me if he didn’t do it often the cars wouldn’t run properly.  My Mom always insisted my Sister and I have our hair trimmed every 1-2 months growing up.  Unwillingly I did it because she said otherwise my hair would get out of control, knotty and dry.  I always noticed how my Grandparents went to church every single Sunday —even when they weren’t feeling 100%.  Personally, I discovered the more I did something (roller skate, play piano, study a subject) the more I improved in the activity.  As a kid, based on my limited life experiences, I remembering deciding consistency was key to everything in life.  Now I think, as a future yogini in disguise, the practice of Tapas was unknowingly being cultivated within.

When I did my first yoga teacher training program in 2005, I remember we discussed the Yoga Sutras in length.  At that time in my life I felt a lack of connection with the third Niyama in Pantanjali’s Yoga Sutras:  Tapas.  I understood what it meant but I didn’t find it as important as the other ethical principles discussed.

My viewpoint has definitely shifted over the last few years.  I now believe Tapas is foundational to the Niyamas just as Ahimsa is foundational to the Yamas.  To fully progress, in what ever it is – creating loving relationships, learning to ride a bike, eating properly, abstaining from intoxicants, meditating, practicing Asana, Santosha, Saucha, etc. – everything in life requires consistent discipline.  In fact, last year I had t-shirts created for my DC based mobile yoga business ( that read, “breathe, burn, be” on the front.  Often people ask, “What does burn mean?”  They usually try to guess before I’ve had a chance to respond.  I’ve heard:  burn calories, sweat, hot yoga, and intense yoga.  In creating the shirts, I realized how important Tapas has become in my personal practice and life.  So the burning answer to, “What does burn mean?”   The simple answer:  Tapas

Just as burn has many interpretations, Tapas has many translations.  One of my favorite translations of Tapas is discipline.  Discipline is a practice.  And I believe it is at the foundation of everything we do whether one consciously practices yoga or not. In order to truly practice or accomplish something (whatever it is) and reach a state of peace and happiness in the process (whether it’s Samadhi or the perfect headstand) consistent discipline must reside at the core of the activity.  Along with discipline, there is an element of faith and trust we must cultivate.

Developing faith and trust enables us to surrender to the practice of discipline.  We may question, “Why do I need to keep doing this?” or  “Will it really work?”  These may be exit strategies to get us out of an uncomfortable situation/discomfort/burning sensation.  What we learn is Tapas/discipline isn’t always pretty.  In fact, sometimes it burns.  Tapas teaches we often must do things we don’t want to do (like getting my hair cut regularly as a young girl) or sit with discomfort in order to eventually reach a better state of comfort or a new stage of growth.

Keep in mind, there are definitely times when questioning the action/discomfort is necessary.  For instance, the adage “no pain, no gain” is true in the practice of Tapas (99% of the time).  Yet through the various practices of yoga, one learns to live mindfully and be present in the pain.  Being present in the pain enables one to know when to wisely back off to avoid injury or harm (the other 1%).  It is in this “no pain, no gain” practice of tapas, that a strong sense of faith and trust is yet again required so we are clear as to what is present in the pain (and in our minds) as we are experiencing the situation.

Lastly, tapas/discipline to me is similar to shedding.  It requires a mindset of letting go and trusting that the old ways of doing things are no longer of service.  It requires us to change habitual ways of doing and thinking.   In the midst of practicing discipline/Tapas, there’s space to keep burning/going or just to simply give up.  If you give up, you often land back at square one.  In asana if you give up after falling over, you will never advance to the next stage of the posture.  If you get back up and patiently try again, you move forward and learn something new about yourself.  The heart of the asana practice is to show up physically (discipline!), commit to being on the mat mentally (disciplined focus!) and practice from where you are in the moment (trust!).  Another example is mountain biking.  I’ve had to shed a lot of my limited thinking/beliefs about what I think I can’t do.  If I give up on the trail, I’m carrying my bike more than riding it.   So often when I begin to doubt myself, I tap into my yoga breathing & Tapas to get me up, down or through what looks like impossible feats (climbing steep hills, jumping logs, splashing through streams).  Letting go/shedding my limiting thinking of myself has required a lot of trust & faith.

Today, whether I’m on my yoga mat or mountain bike, I know things flow better when I fully breathe and relax into the situation at hand even when it’s a little uncomfortable.   I’ve learned to commit to me on my mat and bike so I can show up fully as me in my life, not just for me but for others too.  I’ve also learned that faith & trust are powerful and stronger than fear, no matter how big the fear appears on the surface.  I believe without discipline one remains stagnant in life –wondering around without guidance. Until one can commit to work through areas of stuckness/stickiness (whether in the body or in life), they’ll remain stuck.   In asana, one remains stagnant in a posture – always wishing to be at the next level.  Without regularly changing a car’s oil, as my Father taught me, it will one day die.  And as with life, we either evolve (which requires discipline/Tapas) or die.  I will conclude with a quote I recently stumbled upon by Dale Carnegie:

“Most of the important things in the world have been accomplished by people who have kept on trying when there seemed to be no hope at all.”

Too Busy to Pause?

I interact with many people on a daily basis.  Whether I am a student in a yoga class among 25 fellow students, teaching a corporate yoga class or talking with someone about my health coaching practice, a common thread I hear is the word “busy” which is often paired with the word “stressed.”

Modern day living dictates many people feeling overwhelmed with busyness.  Some literally don’t know when/how to take a breath – a key factor in stress.  Busy leads to boredom – people get stuck in a rut following the same routine day-in & day-out.  Busy leaves no space for creativity – which often can put limits on our highest potential.  Busy is not necessarily productive, particularly when some people are busy for the sake of being busy – as if it’s the socially accepted catchphrase of the decade.  To top it off, those who are overwhelmed with being busy often lack inspiration in their lives.  Does any of this sound healthy?

Yet why do so many think it’s a crazy idea to stop and take a break?  If we don’t take control and break for pause, eventually the busy pace will break us.  If you relate to any of the above just mentioned, pause is required in your life.  There is power in pause.  If you make the time to drop your “to do list” for just 30 minutes a day, you might start to discover that your life is full of inspiration, freshness and peace vs. boredom, busyness and stress.

Need a push for creating change.  Here are some ideas:

  • Adopt a dog – if you live in DC area, consider Lucky Dog Rescue
  • Block out 30 minutes at night to read a new book (non-work related)
  • Try a new venue – visit a new yoga studio, church, restaurant, bookstore, whatever
  • Drive a different route to work
  • Experiment with a recipe that looks super complicated
  • Call a friend you haven’t spoken with in a while
  • Get outside – nature is medicine for the soul

Feeling Fall

The chill is in the air.  Pumpkins are for sale.  Halloween decor is out.  I’m so not ready for Fall but it is here.  Fall is now.

Rather than wishing it was still Summer, I need to open up to all of Fall’s offerings now.  Otherwise the next thing you know, it will be Winter.  Then I’ll wonder “what happen to Fall”.

Embrace “what is” vs. resisting is a practice I’ve learned on my yoga mat.  I often catch myself needing this lesson in everyday life.  Learning to accept and appreciate where I am (i.e., in a yoga posture) vs. wishing I was somewhere else (i.e. in a more advanced expression of the posture).  Waking up to being grateful for the life I have vs. dreaming of a different life or coveting a friend’s.  The grass might appear greener on the other side but there’s beauty in the grass right under my feet if I take the time to look at it instead of peering elsewhere.

So the lesson I share…Every moment we have a choice to either accept where things are or reject.  By accepting, there’s plenty of opportunity to explore, learn and grow.  By rejecting, the door of possibilities is closed shut – possibility of what the new season brings, what newness will show up in life and/or what is possible on the yoga mat.

So here it is…happy Fall!  I’m here for you.

Power of Community

I spent the past week surrounded by the beauty of Breckenridge, CO.  The cold (below 0 temps) doesn’t sit well with me but the peace of the mountains is hard to beat.  I skiied a few days (3 to be exact), meditated daily, practiced yoga every morning before sunrise (which wasn’t hard to do) and read a lot.

When it was time to return home on Saturday, I was ready.  I had already marked my calendar for a class at Flow Yoga on 2/7/2010, my Sunday afternoon ritual.  Unfortunately, Mother Nature had another plan (aka D.C. snowstorm) so I was delayed getting back to my routine by two days.

The benefit of the delay was I had the chance to take a group yoga class at the local yoga studio, Shivaya Yoga.  Advertised as HOT vinyasa yoga, it wasn’t exactly what I’m used to here in D.C.   Though what I realized was it didn’t really matter if the room wasn’t as hot & humid as I’m accustomed or the flow wasn’t as challenging.  What mattered was being in a space with like-minded people, breathing and moving together in a positive manner.  And though I practiced every morning on my own at the foot of the bed while my husband slept, it was this last practice in the local studio that felt the best.

There truly is power in practicing yoga in a group setting, aka community.  Whether words are exchanged or not, you ride on the energy of others.  Just the same, your presence (breath included) impacts others.  Part of creating a positive presence is dropping expectations, opening your eyes and just being with what is.  Someone actually asked me if I walked out of the yoga studio in Breckenridge because it wasn’t what I expected.  Of course not!  There is always something to learn from others.  If you are set in your ways, you miss out.  You miss out on learning something new.  You miss out on meeting amazing people.  You miss out on life!

Now, two days later than planned, I’m finally back home.  Home sweet home.  I went to my yoga community (local DC studio) this morning and practiced in a jam-packed room.  I left with what I needed –a good sweat, challenging flow and positive energy.  And tomorrow I look forward to a home practice in my little space surrounded by the reflection of white snow.

My New Year’s Resolution

I always set business and personal goals for each year but I can’t recall every really setting a “core” resolution that I felt whole-hearted about.  Thanks to my good friend Michelle, who moved from Del Ray Alexandria, VA to Santa Cruz, CA nine months ago, I have a New Year’s Resolution that my life will revolve around for the next 210 days.

Here’s how it went down and how I came to select a 2010 resolution:  On Christmas Eve, Michelle called to say “I’m going to surf 200 continuous days in 2010”.  Over the next few days I started thinking I should support her challenge on the East coast.  What can I do? We talked a few days ago and she updates me that 200 consecutive days could be unrealistic with the power of Mother Nature, work, travel, etc. so she changed it to 210 days of surfing in 2010.  And she set up a cool blog:  210 days of waves.  Hmmm…

At first I thought, I should commit to 210 days of yoga the first 210 days of 2010.  Given yoga really encompasses asana, meditation, philosophy/reading, ethical principles to live by (yamas & niyamas), etc. 210 days of yoga seemed too easy.   Honestly, I already do something yoga-related every single day.  I’m a yogini so I live yoga as well as teach it 5 days a week.  To truly step up to the 210 challenge, I decided to turn my aspirations of daily meditation into reality.  I am committing to 210 days of meditation and I’ve set up a new blog a) to keep me honest, b) because Michelle did 🙂 and c) to try something new (daily blogging).

If you’ve been an abellaYoga blog fan for a while, you’re probably thinking “don’t you already meditate?”  Yes I meditate but not consistently.  I sit about 4 days a week for anywhere from 5 to 20 minutes.  So what does “210 days of meditation for 2010” mean to me?   The answer is here.

Follow our 2010 journeys:  210 days of waves / 210 days of meditation The ride may be bumpy but we’ll do what it takes.  July 29, 2010 is now only 209 days away.


For the fourth night in a row this week, I have woken up at 4am unable to fall back to sleep.  This morning as I lie awake I continue to think about how I just under charged a new private yoga client based on his location & the possible number of attendees.

I finally get out of bed to get a glass of juice.  As I stand and drink my juice, I turn on my BlackBerry and see an email from one of my dear neighbors.  She sent the email to all of my neighbors asking each of us to pray on behalf of a neighbor battling breast cancer (again).

I return to bed with my mind now consumed with how thoughtful the email is and how I can follow through with the simple request of chanting “Dear Lord, please help heal our dear friend Julie”.  The email request that we repeat the prayer/chant/affirmation (whatever you want to call it) three times a day for 40 days.  There’s a lot of significance in 40 days – the Buddha sat under the bodhi tree meditating for 40 days, Moses was in the mountains (or sea) for 40 days, etc.  The references can be endless and very ancient.

As I continue to lie awake, suddenly I realize my financial woe that just minutes before took up my mind is insignificant to a human life.  How quickly my mind shifted from my petty loss.  Instead of worrying about me, I should put that energy into thoughts for my neighbor.

Prayer on behalf of another, a smile at a stranger or simply holding the door for someone are simple acts of kindness that express gratitude for others. To conclude, I ask:  Does the world revolve around us?  Or is it acts of human kindness that connect us to one another around the world?  Back to sleep.

Let It Be Messy

Respectfully, some of the most famous artists can be considered the messiest.  Think of abstract expressionists for example, such as Willem de Kooning and Jasper Johns.  Their work can be looked at by some as sloppy yet it’s worth millions upon millions of dollars.  I love Jackson Pollock but he definitely doesn’t color inside the lines.

Patanjali describes yoga asana as being steady (sthira) and joyful (sukha).  He clearly doesn’t state yoga poses should be rigid and perfect.  Part of finding freedom, whether it’s on the yoga mat or painting on a blank canvas, is being our unique selves (no one is perfect) and letting go of rules (rigidity).

Next time you hit your yoga mat, be expressive in your practice.  Enter, explore and exit each asana with the sthira sukham asanam intention.  This intention enables us to balance effort with ease and fully be in the meditative aspect of the asana practice.   And it’s from this intention we discover that messy is okay and we each shine in our own way.

Each asana (yoga posture), as is life, is a process; they’re both masterpieces in progress.  There is always space to do better, be brighter and more at ease.  If you have to go outside the lines every now and then, do so with awareness.  If you make mistakes, learn from them rather than judge.  Do the best you can –even if it’s a little messy.  Be in it.  Be in the moment.  Be yourself.  Be okay with being a little messy.

Live from the Heart

Speak from the heart.

Act from the heart.

Communicate from the heart.

Touch from the heart.

Shine from the heart.

Give from the heart.

Receive from the heart.

Live from the heart!

When I use to hear words like love, joy and heart, I immediately thought of someone who was soft, touchy-feely, etc.  Admittedly at one time, I was very “me” centered often putting myself before others.  However on the fiip-side, I had also been living with compassion for others but not necessarily for myself.

There has been a huge shift in me in the last couple of years.  I now have more compassion for myself, which has opened my heart to being completely “other” centered in everything I do.  It’s as if my heart has been cracked open.  And now when I hear the words love, joy and heart, I think of a person who lives with confidence, integrity and laughter.

How was Montana?

I have now been back for over a month from my 8-day yoga teacher training in Montana and continued to be ask “How was Montana?”  While others ask “Why do you keep doing more teacher trainings?”  Though it feels like so long ago, it was such an amazing experience that I still light up like a bright star when speaking about it.

As some of you may know from a previous blog post, I went to Montana the beginning of July for a Baron Baptiste Level II yoga teacher training.  One word wraps up the mountain-view & ranch (Feathered Pipe Ranch), training, my fellow attendees, Baron and his staff — AWESOME!  It was an experience I will never forget, from start to finish.  And the best part is I left D.C. (my home) with a bag full of fear and anxiety, and returned home with courage, passion and a new curiosity for life.

The thing I feared the most going into it was getting up in front of the group, teaching (in front of 50+ teachers) and receiving feedback.  It turned out to be nothing to fear.  In fact, my teaching stint lasted less than 1-2 minutes – for the entire week!  The fear I had was a tsunami was going to swallow me up (in the words of Naimi) and the reality is it simply felt like an 8-foot wave knocked me a round a tad.  Coming from a Delaware girl who has always had a huge fear of ocean waves, it really wasn’t much.  In fact, I need to plunge into those DE waves – minus the jelly-fish.  Hmmm…sounds like another fear is creeping in : )

The fear and story I created in my head around “doing it” was so much more nerve-racking than actually being in the moment and living it.  That’s how fear works; it’s like an ugly shadow that never leaves you until you have the confidence to turn around and face it.  In fact one of my new mantras from Level II is “have more faith than fear”.

To see the answer to the question about “why do you continue to do yoga teacher trainings”, you’ll have to read my next blog post.

If Yoga was a Magic Pill…

1)    People would be healthier –physically, mentally and emotionally
2)    More people would smile
3)    There would be less horns blaring
4)    We’d all instinctively wake-up in the morning & stretch like my dog
5)    We’d breathe to our full capacity vs. only 50% – 60-% which is average for many
6)    The world would be a better, more peaceful place
7)    There would be greater respect for religious differences/beliefs vs. hatred
8)    We’d live every moment of life as if it were “the” moment
9)    There would be less huffing & puffing in the long line at Starbucks
10)  We’d see beauty in everyone vs. judgement
11)   We’d love every inch of who we are -no need for Botox and plastic surgery
12)  We’d live out of faith rather than fear                              
13)  We’d be “other-centered” vs. self-centered (learned this at Level II)
14) We’d live life to its fullest expression -why hold back?!?!?

Lastly, if yoga was a magic pill I would make it my duty (karma yoga) to give it away to everyone I encounter vs. selling the $35/month supply of Happy Pills I saw yesterday at my local Smoothie King.