by Barrie Risman
At the beginning of every season, I introduce a sequence of poses designed to awaken the muscles, joints and connective tissue of the feet and ankles. This sequence includes sitting on your heels with the knees and feet together in Vajrasana, with the toes turned under. It is guaranteed to generate some interesting grimaces from students as a result of the “resistance” it brings up, both physically and mentally. The feet and ankles are all too often neglected, especially in the winter months. So, this sequence wakes them up. It gets energy moving there. It feels great. At least, after it’s done.
In yoga, practicing that which you know is beneficial for you, yet might resist, is called Tapasya, sometimes translated as ‘austerity’. It is one of the core characteristics of yoga practice. In Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, tapas is one of the three elements of Kriya Yoga, or the actions of yoga, along with self-study and dedication to the Lord.
Tapas is a Sanskrit word that comes from the root tap which means “to heat”. Like any sort of heat, Tapas transform that which it comes in contact with in beneficial and liberating ways. One of my teachers, Carlos Pomeda, once described tapas as the heat generated by the friction created when your habitual limiting tendencies rub up against a more expansive or awakened way of being. Tapas is a generative, creative heat.
Indeed, the practices of yoga are designed to generate a heat transforms us, purify our being and create a new world within ourselves. At the beginning of yoga practice, the resistance and heat of tapas may be all that’s there.
In my experience, as we continue in yoga practice we naturally strengthen our capacity to move through tapas and even learn to embrace it. The resistance gives way to willingness. We understand and trust that what we resist is often the most beneficial and transformative for us. And then we are able to choose to move toward it, rather than away from it.
Yoga practice is full of opportunities to practice transforming resistance into willingness. Next time you practice, see when it comes up for you. Hold steady. Breathe into it. Let the inner fire melt it. And allow your yoga to change you for the better.