Tapas Report from Gabriel Reese Benjamin (Santa Cruz, CA)
The story begins in 1991. As an eleven year old doing a year of independent study my dear mother Martha Posey started taking me to yoga class with her 3-4 times a week to take class with Jasmin, Bill, and Shanti at the Santa Cruz Tri Yoga Center.
I enjoyed that year a lot although when I started Jr High the next year I didn’t keep up with the classes and as the mind often does mine wandered to a variety of other things. I still did some of the poses on my own though, like half stance, mountain, and swan(my favorite). At 17 I started taking class with Martha a little bit, were as before we were both students, this time she was the teacher. She took me to partner stretch were Jasmin was teaching along with Tom and Benjamin. I was becoming a avid cyclist at the time and the following year I took up racing witch I would continue for seven more years. I was sore from the cycling all the time and decided to get back into the yoga practice more seriously. I soon discovered doing yoga could make you sore but it was a great balance for the riding, helping me relax, and it taught me tremendous focus. I took classes with most all the teachers and all the levels but was drawn more toward the upper level night classes. At the Time the Sunday night class was L3/4 with Bill and it was then I discovered the jump throughs! With large blocks or tall bars I could do them in a short while, which was a thrill for me as there were so many things I could not do.
I continued to practice with the different levels and found a great deal of inspiration in cultivating lightness in the elementary jumps such as Mt to Extended Bend. Phil and Tom often had the class repeating rounds to refine the movement and work towards becoming lighter each time. I found a great deal of inspiration from Kaliji, watching her in person and on video tape and seeing how the lightness can be manifested in all movements not just the jumps.
About four years after discovering the jump throughs I had a ruptured appendix and thinking it wasn’t as bad as it actually was tried to rest and recover instead of going to the hospital which I eventually did four days after the fact. My recovery took some time and I lost my core strength particularly on the right side:( No more jump throughs or even hand balance for that matter.
I used the elementary flows of basics and Level 1 to gradually regain my strength and found a new appreciation for the early levels of the practice. At this point I was already teaching Yoga and a couple years latter I took one of my greatest leaps by deciding to quite bicycle racing, just ride for the love of it and focus more on yoga and teaching.
Progress and enjoyment flowed smoothly from there and I began learning more about yoga as a whole rather than just poses and sequences. I took a L4 training with Kaliji and was left with great inspiration to practice the element of air and embody the lightness of it.
In the past year I began working toward being able to do the jump throughs without blocks. I first became proficient in using the full size blocks in the low position and then began practicing with half blocks. From there I graduated to using fingertips and finally one day I thought I would try with flat palms and no blocks and I did it! It wasn’t my smoothest jump by far but I made it through much to my surprise. It took some time to repeat the feat I must admit but I continued to practice with all different sizes of props as well as, finger tips and flat hands, and sure enough the jump throughs became smoother and more consistent. Practicing leg stretch and L-seat forward bend helped to gain more clearance as the jump through is basically a floating forward bend. Refining the diet also help greatly to have more space when jumping and greater ease and lightness in the mid section.
Admittedly I am very fascinated with the asana practice but as the years floated by I became drawn more to yoga philosophy as well as Ayurveda. I enrolled in a year long course in Ayurveda at a local wellness center and through the studies I depend my connection to the sacredness and ritualistic aspect of the yoga practice. My mind was drawn more and more to the eight limbs of yoga and I aimed to deepen both my practice of Ahimsa as well as Tapas.
Ayurveda emphasizes adjusting one routine and actions according to the seasons and so to celebrate the first day of winter I decided I would attempt 108 jump throughs! The idea being that on the darkest day on the year I would use the practice of Asana to create lightness and increase Agni (digestional fire) to counter the heaviness and dullness that is often felt in winter. I had been practicing them almost every day leading up to Dec 20 but the most I think I did in one day was about 30. Finally the day came, I woke early dawned a full winter outfit and road my bicycle for an hour to teach a class at the SC center, enjoying one of the most dramatic sunrises I ever saw. After class I ate a nice vegetarian lunch and allowed my self to rest till evening when I would begin my practice of tapas.
I began the practice an hour before sunset with meditation and prana yama. I then practiced reclined leg stretch, swan to extended mt, and extended bow as my preparation. Shortly before the sun should set I began the first jump through. I had a pen and paper and wrote each one down as not to forget how many I’d practiced. After each jump through I would roll through a L-seat forward bend and then jump back to slant and lift to cobra 3. Sometimes I did different seated poses and some times I jumped back to face down and rolled to cobra 2 to be more restful with the practice. Every 15 or 20 I would sustain a variation of runner to keep the hips relaxed as the jump throughs require a great deal of effort from the inner thighs. The first 54 were the hardest but I reminded my self to take it one jump at a time. Soon I had done 65, 80, 100…
The second jump through I did was sloppy, I gave a laugh to myself and thought better do them better than that otherwise it is going to be a long night. The last Jump through I took was the smoothest. I had close at hand blocks and thought if I needed to I would use them or use finger tips. I thought if it felt like I could not honor ahimsa I would retire early and try again. I never used the blocks or the fingers, I used flat palms the whole time. I endured a great effort but refused to suffer from fear, I never looked back(although I did jump back… about 108 times actually:).
I felt so light and enthusiastic once the jumps were complete I then practiced Hanuman asana, Hand Stand asana, Wheel, and the intermediate reclined sequence. I closed the practice with a 15 min deep relaxation and sun moon breath. I sat in stillness and then chanted three rounds of OM. The darkest day of the year was complete and so was my Tapas! I had practiced for just shy of three hours.
I wrote to Kaliji very soon after to tell her the truncated version. I dinned on a home made vegan pizza to celebrate, took a hot bath, and sleep wonderfully.
It was one of the greatest days of my life. It was a new beginning, and from that day on each day would grow brighter in more ways than one. I had realized the joy of practicing austerity enthusiastically, and was looking forward to the next opportunity to do so!
This story has no ending…
I like to think
This story is just the beginning