It is said that in the early practice of yoga, a prospective yoga student would appear at the home of his (and yes, back then, it was a “he”) yoga teacher with two sticks of firewood in hand. The teacher would then meet the student and put him (yes, the students were also male) through a rigorous round of questioning and character assessment to see if the student had sufficient “adhikara,” preparedness or qualification, to take the demanding seat of the yoga student. Only when the prospective student had met with the teacher’s satisfaction would the teacher then ceremonially accept the two sticks of firewood, which were symbolic of the burning of the impurities of body, mind, spirit, and ultimately of ego, that would take place in the agni, the fire of the yogic path, they would explore together.
Today, the process of “adhikara” or assuming the seat of the student often looks much different. In the West, we practice yoga for a variety of reasons, and while we sometimes approach our practice with the zeal of the ancient student seeking out the teacher, sometimes it is all we can do to get everything in place to attend a class. And yet, one thing that has not changed is that yoga is a practice that demands discipline and energy from us. The Sanskrit word tapas describes this kind of firey energy and it is considered to be one of the essential components of yoga. It is reminiscent of the fire logs brought to the agni or yogic fire, symbolic of our intent, each time we practice, to bring the best of our energy for that day and moment, into our practice. We work with this firey energy to “burn away” the dross – whether it’s the sluggishness of winter, an illness, something we want to let go of, exhaustion, an emotion from the day, a deeply held attitude or fear . . . Each time we come to class, we are invited to come just as we are, leaving nothing out, and in our fullness, to take the seat of the student. From this place, we find our tapas energy for that particular practice, ready to burn away what is not helpful or necessary, letting go of that which stops us from living in a way that is less than thriving. What energy offering do you bring this week?