Off the Mat: Irons in the Fire

Off the Mat: Irons in the Fire


Willpower. Intense discipline. These concepts call to mind early memories of my dad smoking a pipe. He was about 38 and had smoked for 20 years when he quit. Just quit. His dentist, concerned about palate irritation from the pipe stem, suggested he switch to cigarettes (no joke). Dad decided to go cold turkey. No drama or public declarations or program. He just did it. As a result, my expectations of willpower are perhaps a tad bit unrealistic.

In my 20s, I worked a series of campaign jobs, promoting a particular local candidate or political cause. These jobs were intense: long hours for little pay demanding deep passion and youthful vigor. One included collecting boycott pledges in busy public spaces and recruiting teams of local volunteers to do the same.

It was exhausting. There was always more to do. More pledges to secure, volunteers to recruit, funds to raise. My best effort was never enough. My workplace was every public space. Even in my few leisure hours, conversations about “what do you do” turned to curious political discussion, and suddenly I was working again.

I started building strict barriers between personal time and professional time. Somehow, I thought these firewalls would protect me from burnout. When they didn’t, I thought my walls just weren’t strong enough.

25 years later, cellphones and Wi-Fi have blurred these lines beyond recognition.

So has motherhood.

So has moving from a big city to a mid-sized town.

I respond to emails on my phone during my kiddo’s music lesson. Run into his teachers buying pet food and my yoga students at Select Board meetings. And yet I’ve resisted these connections, laboring behind my decades old firewalls, believing isolation would preserve my energy, my sanity.

“The supreme purpose of tapas is to accept life’s challenges while being loving and compassionate to all, especially ourselves.” – Nischala Joy Devi

Yoga philosophy offers another path. In Sanskrit, the word tapas literally means burn or purify. My favorite translation of yoga’s ten ethical principles by Nischala Joy Devi says tapas means to “ignite the purifying flame.” Devi deviates from traditional definitions of austerity or strenuous discipline which imply we should seek out pain or suffering. She points out how life provides plenty of daily frustrations with which we can practice focus, intensity.

At the close of the busy holiday weekend, I sat in my darkened living room and listened to teacher Chani Nicholas’ guided meditation for the full moon. Set a fire in your center, she said. Invite all of your selves to gather around the fire to share warmth, sustenance, community. I pictured my selves gathering: Mama. Daughter and sister. Spouse. Teacher and healer. Friend, neighbor, constituent, participant. Baker. Gardener. Organizer. Leader. Student. I want to be busy. Involved. Engaged and engaging, without tying my busyness to my worth, my lovability, my esteem. I can have many irons in the fire.

And that’s the beauty of flame – it doesn’t diminish when shared. Flames burn out not because light is shared but because fuel is gone. Flame needs oxygen and carbon and a spark of energy. It’s a balance. Yet not a particularly delicate one. Thankfully, fire is pretty crude.

Nicschala Joy Devi’s website:

Chani Nicholas website:

Photo Credit: Bernat Casero


Ginny Hamilton

Pain specialist, yoga instructor, and Reiki practitioner Ginny Hamilton teaches simple & proven techniques to release pain & restore energy in the workplace, group classes & private sessions. She has put down roots in South Amherst with her spouse and young son. Daily she’s amazed by the beauty the Pioneer Valley offers, though her allergies beg to differ. In Off the Mat, Ginny explores how yoga’s physical and mindfulness exercises help her parent and how parenting shapes her yoga practice.


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