Tapas – Niyamas
Tapas is the third niyama and is often translated as ‘discipline’ or ‘austerity’. Niyama’s are often referred to as observances and make up the second limb of Patanjali’s Eight Limbs of Yoga and encourage us to cultivate a deeper understanding of how to life a full and conscious life both on and off our yoga mats.
- Saucha – cleanliness
- Santosha – contentment
- Tapas – discipline
- Svadhyaya – self-study
- Isvara Pranidhana – surrender or contemplation toward a higher being
The word Tapas is derived from the root Sanskrit verb ‘tap’ which means ‘to burn’ or ‘to be hot’ and so this observation is really asking us to tap into our inner resolve in order to create the discipline required in our life that can make positive change. Whether this be toward our physical yoga practice or by asking us to be disciplined in our habits so that we can remove ourselves from that which keeps us in our smallness.
Tapas is about ‘heat’ and this ‘fiery discipline’ comes from and sustains our sense of self-belief, self-confidence and ability to be the alchemist in our own lives.
When we take a look at the chakra yoga model we can relate here to the manipura chakra or the solar plexus. This is our fire centre and the place where we connect with our desires and dreams and turn them into reality; this is where we alchemise and transform what we imagine into reality.
Think about the digestive system and how it transforms what we eat into energy: it’s the same energetically! It’s about connecting to our inner fire (agni) and using that energy to make change.
Tapas on the mat
What does ‘discipline in your yoga practice’ mean to you? It could be something as simple as getting to your yoga mat in the first place! I’m sure we can all connect to that; when we don’t have any motivation or can find every reason not to do yoga but know that when we do, we always feel better for it. This is tapas. It’s about digging deep when required as we know that the output will far out way the input and will benefit our physical, emotional, mental and spiritual wellbeing.
Tapas is about creating healthy habits that will improve our wellbeing; it’s about putting structures in place that aid our ability to feel good; it’s about trying when it may be easier to give up.
For some tapas is practicing meditation for 10 minutes everyday to observe the mind and any negative internal chatter, but for others it may be a strong physical practice that challenges the body.
Cultivating a sense of Tapas in our physical practice could mean trying poses we usually avoid or find difficult, or perhaps it’s about leaning mindfully into our edge within a tough asana. There is much to learn from working with tapas in our physical practice as it teaches us that we do need to become ‘advanced’ in order to reap the rewards but in fact through consistent practice and humility it enables us to find an inner strength.
Tapas off the mat
Tapas is also talking about being disciplined toward our habits off our mat in order that we can be the best version of ourselves.
Whether you are trying to drink a little less alcohol, trying to stop smoking, getting to bed an hour earlier, watching less TV or maybe trying to create a healthier relationship with social media, practicing tapas is what we cultivate in order to tap into our inner sense of strength and resolve in order to create healthier boundaries with the various inputs in our lives.
But how can we benefit from this consistent effort? Yoga moves beyond the mat and how we deal with the practice on our mat is a beautiful way for us to relate to what we face off our mat. When we conquer a challenging arm balance or tricky standing posture, it can remind us that we are indeed capable of so much more that we give ourselves credit for. By navigating these postures which we may have at one stage deemed ‘impossible’ we feel better equipped to face challenging situations in our lives. In our exchanges and interactions, in our silences and conversations, we can tune out and tap in to this inner fire and have the courage not to listen to the inner critic and instead, remember our greatness.
Keeping the fire lit
Tapas is about burning away the ‘impurities’ or ‘impure thoughts’ that keep us in our smallness. When we allow ourselves to connect with our inner fire we fan the flames of our inner desires and transform this into possibility. We begin to step into our power with unconditional love and resolve and when this fire roars, so do we. We feel it in our hearts, we speak our truth and we see that version of ourselves that we are destined to step into.
“A man who conquers himself is greater than one who conquers a thousand men in battle”Buddha
When we face our fears we have a choice: run from it or stand there and look it in the eye. If we can find the courage to look at the beast in the eye we realise that there is no bear chasing us but only the fear of it. It is in this ‘uncomfortable edge’ that we grow and transform and if we truly give ourselves permission to change, we can flourish into greatness.
What does Tapas mean to you? The next time you’re faced with a challenge in a yoga class, practise facing up to it and igniting your inner fire – you’ll soon notice big changes on and off the mat!