How to overcome COVID fatigue with Yoga: Use Tapas!
COVID fatigue is real and I am feeling it, too. I have stopped running, I’m eating a lot of ice cream, I’m feeling uninspired and I don’t even want to do yoga! Now that’s when I know I have a real problem: when I don’t even want to do Yoga. Yikes!
All I want to do is travel to Mexico and leave all this behind! Anyone else in for a mojito, white sand and turquoise water?
Unfortunately, this is not an option at the moment, so what can we do to cope? Enjoy this article and discover how the Yoga philosophy can help us in these challenging times of COVID:
1. The teaching of Tapas
2. What is austerity and why we don’t like it
3. Tapas gets easier
4. How do we embrace discomfort without turning it into torture?
5. How can we bring Tapas into your life?
6. There will be obstacles…
The teaching of Tapas
In order to be able to navigate through the pandemic and our lives successfully, we need find other ways than travelling to Mexico to cope. In moments like this, I turn to the good, old and highly reliable Yoga philosophy, written thousands of years ago and still so applicable today.
Several ancient texts discuss Tapas, one of the five Niyama. No, we’re not talking Spanish food here, although… it might go well with ice cream.
Tapas can be defined in many different ways. Aranya, who is considered one of the most important Yogi thinkers and authors of the early 20th century, defined Tapas as “austerity or sturdy self-discipline – mental, moral and physical.”
What is austerity and why we don’t like it
Let’s dive deeper into what austerity means in the Eastern culture, respectively in the West, but most importantly how we can realistically practice it in our daily lives, especially during the challenging times of the pandemic.
In the Eastern cultures, austerity is usually related to fasting, letting go of material objects, and living with the bare minimum. I always picture the monk living in a cave in the Himalayas, who held his arm up for 10 years, while laying on a bed of nails. He’s in the Guinness Book of World Records, by the way.
In the West, austerity usually involves fasting, practicing non-passiveness and, in some cases, living in an Ashram (monastery) for a period of time.
You’re probably thinking that “austerity is hardship and suffering”, but remember: the ultimate goal of Tapas is radiance and clarity of mind. Sounds like the perfect antidote to COVID fatigue to me!
It is believed that you can get past the hardship to find that clarity. However, this is not possible if you take Tapas to the level of torture. Do challenge yourself by practicing some austerity, but I don’t recommend taking it so far as to lay on a bed of nails ;). Finding Tapas is a delicate balance.
Tapas gets easier
In a practical sense, Tapas is often translated as the fire within. Tapas helps us overcome our internal sloth. It allows us to take charge of our lives by taking responsibility and by applying our knowledge and ethics.
In the beginning, the practice of Tapas is challenging, but, with consistency and patience, it does become easier.
Think of rolling a boulder down the mountain. It takes lots of strength to start, as you push hard against resistance. This creates the discomfort or suffering of Tapas. With time, However, the boulder creates its own force and momentum and the movement becomes increasingly easier.
That’s when you will truly feel the benefits of Tapas: the radiance and clarity of mind.
How do we embrace discomfort without turning it into torture?
You might ask what I am doing to overcome this COVID fatigue. Here it is: Today I am going for my first run in over three months and I have joined an online Yoga training to continue with my education and re-inspire myself.
This is how to best approach Tapas in your daily life:
Start off small: If you set impossible or too many goals from the start, you will feel discouraged or overwhelmed and you might give up soon. In my case, one year ago, I was running 10km. Today I will be “running” 1km and alternating between running and walking. I know I can do it. I am going to feel good about this first step I’ve taken and will be encouraged to continue tomorrow.
Understand the higher goal: If you encounter the discomfort without understanding the higher goal, you will perceive the experience as torture. Eventually you will stop the activity – you know it, we’ve all been there and felt the disappointment afterwards – not pleasant. Understanding your ‘why’ will not only help you continue with the activity, but it will also start to bring you joy. For me, the idea of being on my computer more to complete my online training feels like torture. But I have a higher purpose in mind that keeps me going, especially when it gets tough: learning more techniques to help me and my students maintain health and to have more knowledge to pass on to the people I teach.
5. How can we bring Tapas into your life?
It’s time to get more practical! Here are two ways to bring Tapas into our everyday life:
Work on physical health: This is where it all starts. I am starting to run again and watch my food intake – less ice cream for me! What will you do to increase your physical health?
Find a way to embrace discomfort in a healthy way: Step out of your comfort zone to learn something new or challenge yourself to break an old habit or start a new one. Maybe you want to learn a new language or go to bed earlier. Even if you learn 5 words per day and go to bed 10 min earlier, that’s Tapas.
There will be obstacles…
Nothing worthwhile was created without work, challenges, obstacles and road blocks. Anticipate of them and have the antidote ready.
As humans we often tend to avoid this hardship. It’s just a normal self-preservation reaction, but if we let it control our choices and behaviors, we cheat ourselves of the opportunity to create really change, connection and growth.
As you work on Tapas, be mindful of the games you play with yourself. Here are a few games I play:
Bribes: When there is something that I want to avoid doing, but I feel I need to, I seek out pleasure as a way to bribe myself. Please don’t misunderstand me, pleasure is not bad. Pleasure is healthy and one should be able to enjoy chocolate and sex without guilt (For more on this you can read Addiction to Comfort & Spiritual Growth). However, make sure you ask yourself whether you seek pleasure in order to avoid discomfort or doing something you don’t feel like doing. For example, I’ve been so uninspired lately that I bribe myself with chocolate in order to turn on my computer and do my work. What do you do to bribe yourself to do something that brings you discomfort?
Avoidance: I avoid the discomfort by choosing to completely ignore what is happening. I’ve done this with all of the studio closing and re-openings. There have been days when I knew I had to discuss and organize the closing or re-opening our Yoga studios, but I ate ice cream and watched Netflix instead. Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with Netflix, but if you’re using it as a tool to avoid your life, then maybe you want to look at that.
These games are normal and part of the human experience, so no guilt or shame. Guilt and shame are counterproductive. Yoga just asks that we notice and observe. Awareness of our patterns and behaviors is the first step to change.
You’ve just learned a lot about Tapas, congratulations! Let’s see what you can do to apply it in your daily life. Here are your next steps:
1. Choose one habit you want to create.
2. Define your compelling why.
2. Divide it in smaller and achievable steps.
3. Anticipate obstacles and ways to overcome them.
I am excited for you and for how you will feel when you’ve practiced Tapas. Enjoy radiance and clarity of mind!