For me, Tapas (Discipline) is the most difficult to discuss of all the Yamas and Niyamas. It is difficult for me to discuss because I go through times where I am terrible at actually practicing it. I am currently in one of those times.
Emma Newlyn says, “The word Tapas is derived from the root Sanskrit verb ‘tap’ which means ‘to burn’, and evokes a sense of ‘fiery discipline’ or ‘passion’. In this sense, Tapas can mean cultivating a sense of self-discipline, passion and courage in order to burn away ‘impurities’ physically, mentally and emotionally, and paving the way to our true greatness.”
That sounds wonderful, but they don’t emphasize enough how difficult it is to follow through. You can desire a change, know that it will be right for you, but it won’t make a difference if you don’t have the follow through to take the steps necessary to make that change.
Tapas = Adulting
You may not know this about me, but I lack self-discipline. Whether it’s sticking to the bedtime that I’ve set for my kids, not eating all their Valentine’s chocolate, exercising, or many other topics, I lack follow through.
I can set a very reasonable goal like not eating my kids’ Valentine’s chocolate, which is, in fact, a current goal of mine. (I just want to add that it’s March and I haven’t eaten it all, so I’m feeling very proud of that.) The steps to complete this goal are simple: Don’t eat the chocolate. Yet, it calls to me at around 3:00 when I’m writing on my computer. With this Ryan Gosling smoothness, it calls out Hey! from the cabinet in the kitchen. Sometimes I eat the chocolate; sometimes I don’t. Nevertheless, the chocolate still calls to me and I never know how I’m going to react until the call comes.
So, I’ve come to the conclusion that Tapas = Adulting. In order to successfully practice Tapas, you have to lean into and embrace the things that you don’t want to do. As you do these things you don’t like, several things could happen. You could learn to enjoy the activity. Perhaps with practice it becomes easier. Maybe you still don’t enjoy it, but you enjoy the benefit that you receive by doing it. Whatever the outcome, it is important that you follow through.
In order to be successful, you must have an internal fire.
Cleanse with Fire
Fire is a traditional way to remove impurities. (Think about boiling water.) In order to cleanse ourselves, it makes sense that there must be a “fire within”. It takes a lot of hard work to consciously change how you are living your life. If you have a strong enough desire for change and can follow through with the appropriate actions, you will invoke change and open yourself up to the greatness that is in store for you.
Emma Newlyn says:
“Discipline doesn’t strictly mean pushing ourselves harder in a physical sense. Sometimes just actually making the time to get on the mat and meditate, or practice for 10 minutes every day is difficult enough! For some, Tapas will mean making time to be still and observing the mind, and for others it’ll mean working on strength and practicing that arm balance we’ve been putting off.
Tapas is an aspect of the inner wisdom that encourages us to practice even when we don’t feel like it, even though we know how good it makes us feel! It’s that fiery passion that makes us get up and do our practice for the love of it, and by committing to this, the impurities are ‘burned’ away. Making the decision to go to bed a little earlier so you can wake up early to practice is Tapas; not drinking too much or eating unhealthy foods because you want to feel good in your practice is Tapas; and the way you feel after an intense yoga class, a blissful Savasana and deep meditation? That’s Tapas too – ‘burning’ away the negative thought patterns and habits we often fall in to.”
More on Tapas
To learn more about what the Niyamas are and where they came from, read this article. So far, we have discussed the first two Niyamas, Saucha (Purity) and Santosha (Contentment), and we will be discussing Svadhyaya (Self-Study) and Ishvara Pranidhana (Surrender) in the upcoming weeks.
Another great source for information on the Niyamas is Timothy Burgin.
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Here is a great (and short) video about Tapas. This is so eloquently said!
What does Tapas mean to you? Share your thoughts below.