Saturday, April 3, 2010


As much as I love little appetizer plates at Spanish restaurants, this post is not about them. Tapas, the third niyama, translates into many words in English: austerity, self-discipline, burning desire, motivation, and dedication. Ironically, this post has been one of the most difficult for me to write. I have been busy, again, but I have also been unsure how to put these thoughts on here. Over these past couple of weeks, my dedication to self has faltered, and it seemed a bit hypocritical to write about motivation and dedication when I felt so flat. But then I got back on the mat, I got back into work, and I got back into life. I got some tapas back.

I cannot think of a more salient teaching for lawyers. For all the drama displayed on television, being a lawyer is a self-motivated, and often lonely, profession. Being a lawyer can can mean being holed up in an office, working on files for people you see rarely, finding law on the internet, and digging through mountains of documents to find one that just might be relevant. From studying in law school to preparing for trial, being a lawyer takes self motivation.
But tapas is about more than self motivation and dedication. The word itself comes from the sanskrit tap, meaning fire or heat. Through our dedication, even austerity, we are motivated to turn inward and improve ourselves. Tapas is the niyama before self study, swadyhaya, so it prepares us to enter self study. We must have the dedication to get to that point. At first glance, motivation and austerity seem to be polar opposites. Austerity is defined as the state of being austere, which has several arguably gloomy definitions of its own: 1) "stern and cold in appearance or manner," 2) "morally strict," 3) "markedly simple or unadorned," and 4) "giving little or no scope for pleasure." (All references to the Merriam Webster Dictionary online.) But this is the problem with translation. Tapas means all these things because it reminds us that we may feel like we are giving something up, but in the end we are (hopefully) gaining from it. While austerity can have this negative connotation, it is really about clearing and freeing. We can live in this crazy world when we clear our clutter and concentrate on what really matters.

It can be really hard some days to remain motivated for yoga, to constantly come back to the mat, to the breath. There are days I do not want to do yoga. Those are probably the days I most need it. And when I do it day after day, bring myself to the mat, I bring the yoga into my life. When I forget about the mat, I forget about the yoga in my life. But coming back each day reignites that fire, clears away the feeling that I'm too tired, too sore, or have too much else to do.

Being a lawyer is no different. Many lawyers got into the business to do some good. And some days it can seem like the same old routine, one day after the next reviewing documents, writing motions, sitting in a windowless office. But then that hard work pays off - and I do not mean only financially. Some lawyers are lucky enough to change the world with new legal theories. But not everyone gets to participate in cases like Brown v. Board of Education and Roe v. Wade. Instead, lawyers help individuals, everyday. When we remember that, all the junk is cleared away, and the goal remains - be of service.

So tapas reminds us how to clear our minds of the distractions that keep us from our work, our practice. When that fire is lit, we can concentrate, and that is when the lawyer finds the "smoking gun" and the yogi gets into a handstand (still working on that one here). Merriam Webster just does not do tapas justice because it is not the ascetic life we seek, but one where we are not distracted and discouraged by that which surrounds us. Tapas reminds us that there is more to be found than what we see on the surface, and that is something we can take into every aspect of our lives.

So, here I am clearing away my distractions of the last few weeks. That fire has been lit again, and I'm so grateful to be able to be back on here, sharing a journey and learning from all of you. I have some big ideas in the works, and I cannot wait to share them, but that is for another day. I know that it will be the tapas that will guide me. 

How can you bring tapas into your life? What really matters for you? What do you need to clear away to find your internal fire? May that internal fire be lit for you, providing you with the motivation and dedication to find yourself at your best, whether in the law, on the mat, or wherever you are in your life. 

Namaste and Blessings!


  1. i'm working on the tapas for meditation, but not feeling guilty or mad at myself when i dont. which would kind of be opposite the point, no?

  2. @ Emma - I totally agree. Thanks for the insight!