Tapas, which means “willpower” in yoga, hovered over me like a towering father figure, waving a finger of judgment every time I slipped from a diet or stopped practicing yoga.
This made it difficult to stick to changes. I had to postpone this painful cycle of feeling like I lacked willpower and I was a failure, so I turned inward. I began to trust my body’s real needs and learned that a gentler approach could build the warmth and pleasure of personal growth that I lacked. My new tapas are like a wise miner holding a bow drill and ready to make a fire for the whole circle to enjoy.
Your body works for you all the time without your will. Your heart beats, the pH level in the blood is balanced and insulin controls the blood sugar for you. We fight this natural will when we follow restrictive diets. Failure to feed the body real nutrients throughout the day will wake you up at midnight for a snack. Skipping breakfast and not bringing healthy food to work will force you to have a pastry and coffee during a break as it takes energy. This is not a lack of willpower, but a lack of care for your own fire.
You have an ember inside you that is your inner willpower … This inner ember takes gentle care to turn into a blazing campfire that feels like effortless, positive willpower.
You have an ember in you that is your inner willpower. They want to do things that make you feel good about themselves, like doing yoga, eating vegetables, and going on bike rides. Your inner will can be obliterated by enough perceived errors, making it more difficult to trust yourself. Hunger diets, tough exercise programs, or misguided dietary recommendations create these harmful pitfalls. Only the phrase “I will not eat sugar / snack / at night” is disempowering compared to “I will take care of myself / eat healing foods / move a little every day”. This inner glow needs to be gently tended to turn it into a blazing campfire that feels like effortless, positive willpower. How to create it:
1. The internal “why”
First we put the bow drill to work. Why do you want to eat differently? If you want it to look better in smaller jeans, is that enough to keep you going? This external motivation usually ignites my rebel rather than my willpower. Go deeper and ask yourself, “How should my body feel or be able to feel?” or: “What will life be like in five years if I keep the current course?”
For some, it means type 2 diabetes or back surgery or a loss of sex drive. These are more motivating than any subjective quantity that you think you are. Once you have found your personal reason to heal, the embers are in your hands. This is your inner “why”, without which any discipline is external and has to be extinguished over time.
2. The slow build-up
Now our baby embers need a tinder nest, the super flammable stuff that can’t help but catch this new spark. Your tinder boosts your motivation to change. If your inner why is “feeling good,” then you will feel good immediately. Go for a walk, hop on your yoga mat, and have a lovely salad. Now you’ve started a small fire, but it’s still fragile.
Tapas means relieving self-doubt by showing up.
Stable fires need a safe place to grow. My fireplace has two doors and if I start with both doors open, the fire cannot focus its energy and goes out. Keep your flame close to your heart for now. Don’t let the energy dissipate by letting people you love blow their own ideas or previous projections over you. One surefire way to overpower a baby fire is to have a family member kindly offer, “Wouldn’t you like a salad instead of a slice of our pizza?” Instead, keep adding secret sticks of successful decisions as you enjoy this new heat that confidently soars around your heart.
If I just keep a tiny crack in my fireplace doors open, a focused beam of oxygen will be drawn directly to my sheltered fire. The oxygen is like your intention. Focus it with a sankalpa, a statement in this day and age that connects you with your new path. For example, if you start with, “I want to stop eating junk food, feel better, and have more energy,” you can create a stronger sankalpa: “I feel energized when I eat healing, nutritious foods.” Light up the way!
3. Enjoy the fire
Now we’re going to keep adding fuel and trying not to add large logs until it’s nice and hot. This may not be the time for a deep clean or a 40-day immersion. When I ran half marathons, I would exercise and slowly build myself to a point where it felt bad not to run. The tall tree trunks may give up sugar or say no to more than one glass of wine so you can sleep soundly. If you continue to eat colorful, live foods as staples in your daily fire, one day the sugar habit could just burn away for you. Your campfire is glowing, no willpower is required to tackle this large log. And no waving finger knowledge that will make you question your inner mojo.
Tapas means relieving self-doubt by showing up. If we enjoy the fire but forget to collect, chop, sort, and organize more wood around it, it won’t last. How many times have I eaten food that I wasn’t served because I just forgot to plan, shop, or cook food? That takes work! And once we accept that it isn’t always easy, we can drop the resistance and just practice.
I love how everything we show up for affects the other areas of our lives. When you light a fire for a healthy diet, let it burn to your advantage as it melts your doubts and warms everyone around you with its good energy.
Emily Hightower founded Ondalu to empower people to make holistic choices about their health. Her inclusive programs have helped thousands of people including Wounded Warriors, Teens, and Women in Crisis who practice yoga, nutrition, and the outdoors. Emily guides in person, on the retreat, or on Skype, and lives in Carbondale, Colorado with her husband, son, chickens, and giant dog.