Yoga to Fuel Willpower
Incorporate tapas into your life, beginning with these asanas
When was the last time you saw a ritual through to the end? Be it a 30-day whole food diet, running daily for 60 days in preparation for a marathon, or practising a new instrument until you could play a song from the first chord to the last?
Between setting an intention and reaching the finish line, one has to sustain a certain resolve that bridges the beginning and the end. Here’s where your willpower comes into play, part of which recalls the observance (niyama) of austerity (tapas).
Tapas, one of the five observances in the eight-limb path of yoga, alludes to the self-discipline required to build a strong body, mind, and steadfast character. It is that special fire that rises up within us when we decide to do our best. But our best does not materialise out of nowhere. Instead, we achieve it by shutting out distractions and other pleasures, and steering our mind towards that singular goal.
Elite athletes train their entire lives for a 100-metre sprint that vapourises in 10 seconds. Legendary Chinese pianist Lang Lang, who performs to packed concert halls the world over, became the virtuoso he is by spending thousands hours perfecting his craft in solitude. British-born Indian author Pico Iyer chose to live a quiet life in suburban Japan, away from the rush of city life, so he could devote his attention to writing stories that bring a reader far beyond the page.
Indeed, these personalities have made great strides by taking small, intentional steps. For the rest of us, know that yoga can serve as an incubator for making lasting change in other aspects of your life when your place tapas at the heart of your practice. Besides taking you towards your goals, that unwavering sense of self-discipline is also one that helps rid your mind and body of impurities and habits that no longer serve you. What habits do you need to let go of? What distractions do you need to shed? As you find a way to practise regardless of your circumstance, you’ll also find the momentum needed to burn through these old skins.
As you fold into the following asanas, you might encounter physical discomfort or mental roadblocks. Don’t run from this sense of unease even if it is only natural for your instincts to shout ‘retreat!’. Simply observe these thoughts and sensations as you continue to hold the poses (however, release the pose if you feel any sharp pain). Stay focused. Forge your inner fire.
Paripurana Navasana (Boat Pose)
Besides strengthening the abdomen, hip flexors, and spine, this deceptively simple pose also stimulates the kidneys and intestines. Begin by sitting on the floor with your legs in front of you. Lift your chest and keep your spine straight. Inhale as you raise the legs 45 degrees off the floor, taking care to straighten your knee. Stretch your arms out in front of you, keeping them parallel to each other and to the floor. You’re likely to feel the burn in your abdomen. Challenge yourself to hold the pose for up to one minute before lowering your legs to the floor.
Utkatasana (Chair Pose)
Begin in tadasana. Bend your knees and shift the torso forward so that it is parallel with your shin. Keep your inner thighs parallel to each other. Raise your arms over your head, taking care to keep them parallel, with your palms facing inwards. As you hold the pose, you might feel your thighs on fire as your thoughts stray towards easing out of the pose. But remind yourself of your original intention and instead draw your focus to each inhalation and exhalation of your breath.
Sirsasana (Head Stand Pose)
Typically performed at the end of your practice, this pose helps to strengthen the arms, legs, and spine while bringing fresh blood to the brain. Begin by kneeling on the floor, interlacing your fingers, and pressing your forearms on the floor. Lower the crown of the head to the floor. Position the back of your head between your open palms. Inhale and lift your knees off the floor as your walk your feet closer to your elbows. Exhale and raise one leg up, followed by the other. Be sure to keep the weight balanced evenly on both forearms. Try to hold the pose for three minutes. Release yourself from the pose by bringing one foot down at a time. Do not practise this pose if you have a neck or back injury.