“You are what you repeatedly do. Excellence then is a habit.” Aristotle.
Tapas is the third Niyama in the 8 Limbs (or petals) of Yoga Philosophy.
It’s about keeping your body fit and paying attention to body posture. Further, it’ about directing our energy to enthusiastically engage life by paying attention to what you eat and your movement habits.
While pondering attention to the body, I’m reminded of my journey to Athens, Greece and my study of Ancient Greek sculptures.
Western cultures, in contrast to Eastern cultures, beginning with the ancient Greeks, is marked as sculpting the human figure for its own sake and of finding the body to be a worthy subject for art.
Ancient Greek philosopher Nikos Kazantzakis proclaimed, “Since we cannot change reality, let us change the eyes which see reality.”
In Classical Greek philosophy, they believed that the body itself was beautiful and humanity is the “measure of all things.”
The Olympics were a Greek invention. Cultivating the body through dance, gymnastics, and sport was an important part of Greek culture; they admired their athletes greatly.
The ideal of physical perfection in human body did not relate to high social status, but instead, symbolized an ideal divine soul.
Greek artists developed the concept of Contrapposto in which the figure stands in an s-curve through a play of opposites. There is potential for motion inherent in each living being. They demonstrated this concept with weight on one foot, the other knee bent, tilt of the hips, and leaning of the opposite shoulder.
Although many of the ancient Greek sculptures were of male nudes as Gods in the human form, athletes, mythical heros, and anonymous young men, a Caryatid is the name given to an architectural column which takes the form of a standing female figure. The most famous Caryatids are the six which support the roof of the false south porch of the Erechtheion on the Athenian acropolis. The Greek term karyatides literally means "maidens of Karyai", an ancient town of Peloponnese. They carried on their heads baskets of live reeds, as if they were dancing plants.
Casual and relaxed, the women balance a heavy stone roof on their heads. It is a remarkable display of female power: voluptuous curves combined with massive, muscular strength.
The Caryatids displayed features which became staple elements of Classical sculpture: clothes that clings to the body (the ‘wet look’) and a bold and more dynamic positioning of the hips and legs (contrapposto). Although each Caryatid wears the same robe (a belted Doric peplos and short himation) each is uniquely rendered; their faces, stance, draping, and hair are carved separately; the three on the left stand on their right foot, while the three on the right stand on their left foot.
Let us remember this individuality as we ponder the form of our own bodies and how they feel through movement and food intake.
Tapas is also described as heat in the body that burns up all the desires that stand in our way of union as it confronts and handles inner urges or cravings.
In Wayne Dyer’s book, Being in Balance, one of his chapters is about Balancing Your Desire to Have Your Body Feel Great with What You Feed It and How You Exercise It.
He states, “You’re not what you eat; you’re what you believe about what you eat.”
“There is nothing permanent except change…Day by day, what you choose, what you think and what you do is who you become” – Heraclitus.
When you’re happy, your brain produces a chemical that relays the news of your happiness to all 52 million of your body cells, who rejoice and join in.
What if you believe that your body is capable of converting any fuel that it receives into healthy, happy cells? This is a radical idea for people who have viewed food as an enemy, as they constantly count calories and feel guilty when they eat something “bad.”
Notice that there are many people who get what they want, when they want and who pay no attention to diets, who don’t obsessively weigh themselves every day, and who are not only at a normal weight, but are happy in their own skin.
What if we practice thinking like they do for a while and see if it works?
In order for this to work, you need to fervently believe that you’re a specimen of perfect health by creating that ideal picture of yourself as looking and feeling great.
Think, “I have no shame or guilt about myself or my behavior. I love my body. I’m going to take great care of it because it houses the sacred being that I am.”
This wonderful awareness of self-acceptance combines with a strong desire to treat your body with respect.
As a result, you begin eating healthier food in smaller portions because it feels good and you want to feel good. You also begin to exercise and move your body in mindful ways.
Essentially, in yoga you learn your body is not your enemy, and it is through conscious awareness of your alignment, foundation, and breath in your body in that translates into better appetite control. Yoga helps us to breathe through any cravings.
Aristotle states, “I count him braver who overcomes his desires than him who conquers his enemies, for the hardest victory is over the self.”