Gratitude as a Form of Tapas

Mariel Witmond
Mariel Witmond

19 December, 2018

Gratitude as a Form of Tapas

The challenge with coming to terms with tapas in yoga (one of the five external guidelines for life) is that they are often seen in a negative light. Translated as a “discipline” and widely understood as “giving something up,” it can be interpreted as an austere guideline, almost a punishment of sorts. In truth, tapas is a way of removing something negative in your life to make more space to receive the positive. And it is a discipline.
During my 200 hour yoga teacher training, we were asked to come up with a tapas which we would then present to the other students as a means of practicing things to discuss at the beginning of our yoga classes. For my tapas, I chose to eliminate negative thoughts by maintaining a daily gratitude journal. I believe it was Brene Brown (to whom I attribute all great things), who said that she didn’t like or agree with the sweeping phrase “attitude of gratitude” as gratitude is not so much an attitude that we can just switch on, but instead a daily practice – a discipline. So, my discipline has turned into writing out as many things as I can come up with at the end of each and every day that I am grateful for (it is important to include the “why” as well, to avoid just listing without emotion). I make it my mission to write as soon as I get into bed every night – regardless of time, jet lag, my husband’s advances, you name it.
At one point, I had a dear friend who was going through a difficult time ask me, in all sincerity, if I really could come up with something to be grateful for every single day. It broke my heart. The truth is, when we are going through tough times, we lose sight of the countless things we have to be grateful for – and they don’t have to be big things like a new job, a new boyfriend, getting engaged. My list has included things as simple as being able to live in a vibrant city like London, a sunny day (it is London after all!), a healthy meal, taking a yoga class, the kindness of strangers (seeing people give up their seat in the underground always restores my faith in humanity) and so on.
The notion of an “attitude of gratitude” first hit home with me (in a non-Thanksgiving way) with the Indie flick Happy Thank You More Please. There’s a great scene where Malin Ackerman’s character is on a first date with a guy who is nowhere near her type, but she finds herself opening up to him with this story:
“About a year ago, I was in this cab, and the cab driver – this Indian guy, started telling me…he started telling me all sorts of stuff. He was just looking at me in the rear view mirror and he said, Bliss. Bliss is your birthright. And I was like, Uh…45th and Madison? And he said, You have great potential in this lifetime. The key to your life is gratitude. You do not give enough thanks. And I said, Well, how do I do that? And he said, Simple! Say ‘thank you.’ And I said, Well, when? And he said, All the time! Like now. And he said that after I say ‘thank you,’ I should say, ‘more please'”
She goes on to explain that when we give thanks, life conspires to give us more to be grateful for. There is abundance in gratitude.
Ever since I heard this, I started the practice of saying thank you in my head three times after things I was truly grateful for – two most common instances are after Namaste in a yoga class and every single time after I land safely in a new destination.
Gratitude will transform your life into a happier, more positive one, but it is a daily practice. You will soon find that as one of my favourite quotes says: “The Secret to having it all, is realising you already do.”

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