By Nicole Lonero
Yoga and Ayurveda provide a series of guidelines to help us measure our growth and direction on the often windy and unforeseeable path of self-discovery. In the eight limbs of Yoga, the niyamas are those guidelines: the moral codes that help us launch the principals of Yoga off our mats and into our lives.
Tapas is the code identified with discipline or austerity –purification through discipline. Focus, discipline and commitment create a purifying heat, a fiery blaze that burns away impurities and distractions from our lives so that we can experience true union.
I have struggled against discipline all my life. I grew up never knowing (or admitting) what I wanted and was afraid to commit to any one thing. I wrestled with what I perceived to be the invisible bondage of structure. As a day student at a boarding school, I was shuffled through a million rules and codes of conduct. I was told what to wear and how to spend every almost every hour of my day. The rules became my personal prison that I resented more and more each year. I couldn’t understand why I couldn’t go to Dunkin Donuts when I wanted, why I had to sign out when I left campus and why I had to go to school meetings and chapel when they didn’t further my learning. I couldn’t justify the obligation to follow rules that, when broken, hurt no one. What really blinded me was not seeing the benefit of routine or the necessary grounding that comes from consistency and practice – the space available to soar when we are deeply anchored.
In college, I experienced freedom for the first time. Because of my private school education and the competitive soccer I played, I had the advantage of knowing to study, how to structure my time and achieve results through hard work. I appreciated the newfound cushion of holding myself accountable instead of following a set of rules imposed by others. I finally started to make my own decisions. I quit a sport that had taken over my life until that point. I was able to seek interests outside of what I had previously been exposed to. Still, I followed a self-destructive pattern: I would do really well the first semester thanks to late night studying that made up for my procrastination. Then I would burn out by my second semester because I didn’t have the endurance built from a system of commitment and routine.
After I graduated college, I traveled aimlessly through a structure-less paradigm, seeking an ideal career and home. I realized that I was able to enjoy the freedom of college because my time was still grounded in the foundational academic structure: semesters, classes, deadlines etc., the predictable ebb and flow of academic cycles. It wasn’t until after graduation that I was truly without structure to lean on, and I suffered for it. I didn’t know how much I craved grounding I craved or a foundation to build upon. I freelanced from project to project and moved from place to place without even unpacking. Un-tethered and non-committal, I felt like my feet had been wiped from under me.
By the time I found Hale Pule I was both called to the austerity of routine and terrified by it. Part of me knew that I had to put myself in an environment where I couldn’t run from commitment. Instinctively, I knew I needed structure if I wanted to accomplish anything in my life.
After floating through most of my 20s, I remember the moment at Hale Pule when the question surfaced: If you don’t know what you want to commit to, can you at least commit to yourself to your own truth, to following your own path? That was a turning point for me because it shifted my perspective from an outward need to find my place in the world to a more streamlined focus. I felt a commitment to remove all those distractions that kept me from experiencing each moment and began to hear and trust the silence behind a sea of voices telling me what to think and how to feel.
Tapas is the discipline to sit on my mat when I want to run – when I don’t think I have the patience or strength to sit with what’s inside me.
People are often surprised and impressed when I tell them I meditate every morning. I want to clarify that they don’t know the quality of my mediation. Maybe I couldn’t clear my thoughts. Maybe I had only one fleeting moment of peace before agonizing over my to-do list. But still, the commitment to sit on my mediation pillow morning after morning with the thoughts I don’t want to have is what outlives the moments of discomfort. That’s what will guide me into the silent, restorative meditation I seek. That commitment to sit in the face of failure is what will elevate my Yoga practice and catalyze the changes I want to see in my life.
And it’s always a work in progress. I recently had a meeting with someone in my field. He wanted to know exactly what I wanted to do, so that he could know how to help me. But I dodged the certainty he was looking for and kept my intentions broad. We discussed that I was afraid of committing to only one thing because I wasn’t certain and I didn’t want to limit the opportunities I could be presented with. He advised me that I could still focus on one path while keeping my options open and that I could get farther on any given path with a narrowed focus than by staying wide open.
If I indulge in all of my whims without fully committing to any one of them, I will be depleted and spread thin, not knowing which direction to take or how I got there. But if I set commitments for myself and have the discipline to follow through, even if it’s simply the commitment to spend five minutes sitting on my mat every morning, the spark created from that commitment will burn into something bigger. Over time, it will shine a light on the maze of fear and distractions and clear a path to commit to, even if that path is just choosing to commit to myself.
In late 2015, Nicole worked at Durga Farms and lived at Hale Pule. Furthering her interest in Yoga and Ayurveda, she went on to complete her 200-hour Raja teacher training at Hale Pule in 2016.
She currently lives in Los Angeles and works in film and television, aspiring to write and produce. She also teaches private Yoga sessions and small group classes in LA. You can follow her on Instagram @nicolelonero or email her at email@example.com.