Our Experiment of the Month for February is the third Niyama, “Tapas.” Literally, this word means “to heat” or “to cleanse,” and is sometimes translated as “austerity” or “discipline.” For our experiment, we can also look at this principle as “Determined and Consistent Practice.”
T.K.V. Desikachar, in his book “The Heart of Yoga” (one of the most transformational books I have ever read), says that tapas is a process of inner cleansing, something we do to keep ourselves physically and mentally healthy.
Asana and pranayama - the physical and breathing exercises of yoga - are tapas. These exercises are a means to get rid of blocks and impurities, to influence our whole system positively.
Desikachar also suggests that attention to body posture, attention to eating habits, and attention to breathing patterns are also tapas. Tapas makes the whole body fit and well-functioning, as we remove things that we do not need. He says it is the same principle as heating gold to purify it.
All this sounds wonderful in theory, however I tend to hit a snag or two when trying to put this concept into my everyday life.
I’m prone to an “all-or-nothing” pattern of thinking, and making steady, gradual progress in yoga is a big departure from my usual style of totally changing everything about my life in one day, making one mistake the next day, and then giving the whole thing up soon after because I “failed.”
I really appreciate what Judith Lasater has to say about tapas in this article on the niyamas https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.yogajournal.com/.amp/yoga-101/cultivate-your-connections
In the section on tapas, she mentions another pattern I can fall prey to when trying to bring discipline to my practice - that many people mistakenly equate discipline with difficulty (Me!). She points out that difficulty does not in itself make a practice transformational - it can create impediments, since the ego is drawn to battle with difficulty!
I appreciate, and want to share, what Lasater offers as a better way to understand tapas. She says to think of it as consistency in striving toward your goals.
I’m starting off this month’s experiment by setting an intention to observe, on a daily basis, what practices I am doing consistently. I know some of these daily practices are things I have strong feelings of aversion about - the things that I do that are NOT tapas. But my goal at the moment is to pay attention to my current state, to see the truth about myself. From my experience so far, I can say that when I dedicate myself to seeing clearly, right action, transformation and freedom naturally follow. There’s initial discomfort in looking squarely at myself - some intense heat - so rather than let that deter me, I’ll call it tapas, and stick with it!