HOW DO YOU EAT AN ELEPHANT?

Practicing  tapas  helps you create healthy habits.

Practicing tapas helps you create healthy habits.

Seven minutes and thirty seconds.

During his talk at the Southwest Institute for Healing Arts in May, master yogi Mark Whitwell asked us to commit. Do a simple, short yoga flow routine every single day for three months, he said. “If you give it seven minutes a day actually, naturally and not obsessively, I promise it will change your life.” As we drove home from the event that Tuesday night, Jamie and I agreed we both would do it.

For years, I’ve wanted to establish a committed, daily physical yoga practice. Don’t get me wrong. I practice frequently and have for many years. But when it came to a daily home practice, the Terrible Triplets — laziness, procrastination, and rationalization — had a powerful pull.  I’d wake up with the kind of intention the devil loves to pave with, and the Triplet’s mellifluous voices would sing out a sweet persuasion. “Look at your calendar! The To-Do list! What a busy woman you are. Practicing right now will take too long. You can do it later. Tonight. Tomorrow!”

Seven minutes and thirty seconds a day seemed manageable, and would be a perfect precursor to my meditation practice. Honoring my commitment to Mark Whitwell would unplug me from the power of the Terrible Triplets and give me a double-dip return — enhancing my asana routine and the opportunity to practice tapas.

In Sanskrit, tapas translates as heat. It is the practice of discipline or zeal. For the things i like and need to do anyway, such as working, writing, and reading, tapas comes easier. In other areas of my life, lack of tapas creates self-imposed barriers to personal growth and developing good habits.

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My daily 7.5 minutes is reminding me that “tapas is as tapas does.”  It requires getting past the discomfort caused by friction created by  “going against the grain” of my tendencies to succumb to procrastination and rationalization. This friction generates the heat of tapas, burning off habits that don’t serve you. The heat generates strength and stability, and the Terrible Triplets wither in the face of such fire.

Since Mark’s talk, we have practiced every day for more than two months, except for a couple of days lost to travel and illness. Now when I get on the mat, the seven minutes and 30 seconds often expands. Seduced by the meditative rhythm of breath connected to movement, I find myself adding a few lateral stretches here, a balancing pose or some extra twists there — whatever my body is calling for. I get lost in the ocean sounds of my breath, the delicious dance of muscle and bone. Meditation flows  naturally at the end of my practice. When I open my eyes, 20 or 30 minutes have passed. This makes me smile.

Fueled by tapas, I am eating an elephant — one bite at a time. Take that, Terrible Triplets.

 

WHY BEING PRESENT WORKS BETTER

We’ve been working with a client for several weeks now, using an appreciative inquiry, strengths-based approach to organizational change. As we were going over a feedback report with a group of managers recently, I asked them if it reflected the organization. At first, silence. Then some quiet buzzing among the group.

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Finally someone spoke up: “This report reflects the questions you asked during our last meetings. You asked for stories about when things were going well and people felt connected to their work. This report captures that, but it doesn’t accurately reflect the organization. We don’t always have a “we’re-in-this-together” feeling, especially across the organization as a whole.”

Without hesitating, I asked them to break up into small groups and talk about what was missing from the report — what needed to be added to create a more accurate picture?  As they began conversing, Maren pulled me aside and asked, “Where are we going with this? I thought we were doing appreciative inquiry, and you are asking them to identify problems.” My answer of "I don't know" didn’t satisfy her. Panic began to set in. Why had I asked them to do that? Had I derailed things? And how would we get back on track? Maren pressed the issue, saying, “I don’t know how to participate if I don’t know what the plan is.” I got edgy in my responses, and she felt attacked.

The incident was a good reminder of the benefits of staying present, and how "off-the-mat" yoga practices can help. Often I feel trapped by what has already happened (the past) and what might happen (the future). If I had managed to stay fully present, I would have been open to Maren's questions instead of becoming defensive and edgy.

For example, a few slow, conscious breaths (pranayama) creates space to slow down the runaway voices in my head. Breathing helps me get in touch with my source and ask the most important question: "Who do I want to be in this moment? And what actions can I take to help me be that person?"

Another useful practice is surrender (ishvara-pranidhana). The panic I felt in the face of Maren's questions was related to vulnerability — I wanted to be right, and I did not want to look stupid.  Surrendering my ego makes it easier to engage in curiousity, humility, humor, and creativity, which would have been far more useful in that moment. Surrendering also means letting go of my emotional attachment to the outcome, which is acknowledging what is true — I am not in charge of how things turn out. Doing my best to serve clients is always my intention. Even so, I recognized that how things unfold is out of my control.

Finally, I could have been kinder in my response to Maren, employing the practice of ahimsa (do no harm) so that she did not feel attacked.

In the end, the questions I asked the client group to talk about sparked a rich, useful discussion that did not derail the meeting at all. Everything turned out the way it was supposed to — it was fine. And the reflections prompted by the incident with Maren reminds us both that yoga is a practice. As our work together continues, we will have many more opportunities for that.