Thursday, June 3, 2010

Some Days We...Just. Can't. Do. It.

I've been thinking about burnout lately, as I'm lying in bed and can feel the tiredness in my legs, pulsing like waves. Am I pushing too hard, or do I just need to get into better shape? Am I being too disciplined, or not disciplined enough?

In the yogic tradition, the energy and austerity of discipline is captured by the term “tapas,” not to be confused with the yummy small plates often served at Spanish restaurants. A Sanskrit word, Tapas translates as “the purifying heat.” According to Gary Kraftsow, in his book, Yoga for Transformation, tapas is about “purifying and strengthening our systems through disciplines designed to reduce physical, emotion, and mental impurities.” Tapas is the energy we bring to cutting through the distractions in our life, often manifest in our myriad conditioned responses and habitual actions, so we can bring our full attention to the present moment. The idea of tapas captures the mental and physical elements of our daily workout challenge. Dedicating to our sports is so much more than a physical commitment; it is deeply mental and emotional as well. It requires the energy of our bodies, and the energy of our minds.

In his book, Kraftsow points out that tapas is about breaking cycles of habit and addiction, waking us up out of the momentum of our daily lives (which can become a form of inertia in itself, if we aren’t mindful), to pay attention and look at why we are doing what we are doing; to see things in a new way. In other words, our daily discipline, our tapas, can become superficial or warped, if instead of helping us to be present in our lives, our routine has become so ingrained and unchangeable as to be harmful, physically, mentally or emotionally. And that’s exactly what burnout is, the point at which we have so deeply integrated our workout habit, that we have lost sight of the moment, of how our workouts are actually making us feel, which is tired and dragged out.

Eckhart Tolle, in his book, The Power of Now, suggests we take time each day to “flood our body with consciousness.” By which he means, to literally close your eyes, lie quietly, and focus your attention on each part of your body, until you can feel it as a single field of energy. That’s a deeply felt form of being in the moment. And there’s no doubt that if we pay close attention to our bodies, they will tell us what’s best. And sometimes that’s “stay the course,” or “rev up,” and other times the message is “change now.”

The weather is beautiful, summer is upon us, and the temptation to wear ourselves out on the race circuit, or with other physical activity can be irresistible. Which means?--it's also time to listen even more carefully to our bodies.

Enjoy the sweat and hear its message.