“When you have fortitude, you stand supreme under any conditions.”
-Sri Dharma Mittra
By definition, fortitude is having courage even in the face of diversity.
I like to apply this sentiment when teaching classes, especially when it comes to long holds or challenging poses. Some people may try to leave a pose when it becomes uncomfortable or it’s something they don’t want to try. I know, I’ve been there. When I first started practicing yoga, I would find reasons to leave the room when I wanted to avoid the challenging stuff. I don’t do that any more. Now, I’m all in.
The practice of yoga teaches us to remain calm even when times get tough. We learn how to navigate stressful situations, remain focused, and stay committed to an end goal. This is tapas, one of the niyamas of yoga, meaning austerity, commitment and self-discipline. Fortitude is essential to increase your tapas, so that when things fall apart or become challenging, you can move through them with ease, grace, and steadiness.
In life, we will be faced with challenging situations, this is after all how we progress and move through our karmas. But as my teacher Sri Dharma Mittra says “focus with fierce determination” and you will succeed.
When I first heard him say this I was taken aback. The word fierce conjures up many images for me, some of them not so positive. But as I started to practice with fierce determination it began to make sense. You see, something fierce doesn’t have to be bad at all. In fact, fierce is just another way of saying intense focus.
When you are intensely focused on one thing, everything else falls away. When you add the determination to get things done, then you are intensely committed to an end goal. You don’t give up, you keep on trying. You “do it because it needs to be done” as Sri Dharma says. As we move through the limbs of yoga we narrow our focus from the ethical, to the physical, to the subtle, then to the focused attention on a fixed point. This focused attention eventually becomes samadhi or absorption with the Supreme; the end goal of the yoga practice.
You don’t have to seek Self-realization in order to move through your life with fierce determination. This practice can be applied to anything you do. Whether it be a yoga pose, starting a new business, or learning to knit or bake, you can become so focused on it, that you will eventually succeed.
This picture is me doing Kashyapasana, a pose I never thought I’d be able to do. But I kept at it and one day it happened. It wasn’t overnight and it wasn’t all flowy and pretty, but it came. In the end, it wasn’t about the pose at all, but rather the willingness to keep at it that mattered most, even when I thought it was beyond me.
But remember, just because you are fiercely focused doesn’t mean your actions are not filled with love and compassion. Compassion, after all, is the foundation of the yoga practice. You can be both intensely focused and compassionate at the same time.
How to you mix the two together? Easy. If something you do or say causes harm to another being, then it is not done in a state of compassion. This goes for yourself too. If you are hurting yourself in your yoga practice, then you are not being compassionate to yourself and listening to your body’s needs. If I pushed myself in to that pose before I was ready, I’d surely injure myself. If you are causing your family to go broke starting your business, then you are not being compassionate to their needs. You get the gist. You can be both fiercely determined, but always, always, lead with compassion.
How do you practice with fierce determination? How does this technique relate to the work you do off the mat? Share you thoughts in the comments below and let’s support one another!