Monday, February 7, 2011

Cooking Your Practice

PYS II.1: Yogic action consists of three components: Discipline, Self-study (of scripture), and devotion to the Absolute.

This sutra provides a barometer for us as students: are our actions yogic? If they include these 3 things, then yes. Tapas is often translated as discipline, austerity, or burning zeal in practice.  It comes from the root tap, which means to cook.  Interesting image.  When we cook, we transform one thing into (presumably) a better form.  Sometimes this means we combine parts to make a new whole, or we can be altering the basic form of one thing to make it a better expression of itself.  Cooking can be done with heat and mechanical force (and with chemicals, such as acids, but that doesn’t fit neatly into my metaphor).   

Let’s look at our humble egg—mostly because it is high in protein (like us).  When protein cooks, it goes through some very distinct stages.  At first the protein molecules are tightly wound and do not interact.  When heat or force are applied, the coiled up molecules begin to unwind—called denaturazation.  These formally compact and independent molecules now move about and bind with one another creating a matrix of protein, called coagulation—turning the clear white part into an opaque white.  If the egg continues to be cooked, the matrix becomes tighter and tighter—aggregation, until it becomes so tight that trapped moisture is expelled—synerisis—and we are left with an unpleasant curdled mess.

Tapas requires two major components.  First, consistency.  Second, self awareness.   One must dedicate themselves to the practice to achieve long term results.  There also needs to be a feedback loop—if we do something which prevents us from consistency, we must alter what we are doing. If we are doing something that causes injury, turning the body into an obstacle, we need to change what we are doing.  Both are totally our responsibility.  All the teachers in the world cannot do the practice for you—they can give options, offer feedback, encourage, and give insight, but it is all wasted if the student does not have the self awareness to do the practice.

Going back to our egg.  We need a hot pan.  Initially.  But if we keep the pan screaming hot, part of the egg will burn, part will be underdone, and all of it will be uneatable.  But if we focus our senses—sight, hearing, smell, taste, touch, we can make adjustments as we go.  Yes, we do need to be shown at first, and probably need a refresher once in a while.  But we are responsible for that egg.  If we mess it up, burn ourselves, etc, because we are trying to go to hot too fast for too long, we have lessened the chances that we will keep up with the practice.

The purpose of yogic action (PYS II.2) is to disarm the causes of suffering, not to create more obstacles.  Use all of your senses, and the feedback from your teacher, to determine the practice which is right for you. It is your practice.  Not your teacher’s, not the person on the next mat, not the Yoga Journal model’s.  Be consistent, be aware, and your practice will grow.

1 comment:

  1. Rock on my fellow yoga geek! So happy we get to share in this journey together!
    Shannon (of Shambhala Yoga Center :)