Below is an excerpt from one my favorite yoga teachers, Judith Hanson Lasater. If you haven’t read her book Living Your Yoga, I HIGHLY recommend it.I was always taught that tapas was internal heat/fire from within, which I always translated into a more vigorous yoga practice. Judith’s excerpt below is such a more in depth (and powerful) explanation of this niyama. I won’t do it justice, so just keep reading.
Discipline as Purification
“Tapas” is one of the most powerful concepts in the Yoga Sutras. The word “tapas” comes from the Sanskrit verb “tap” which means “to burn”. The traditional interpretation of tapas is that it is “fiery discipline”. It is this discipline which burns off the impediments which us from being in the state of yoga. (Yoga is both the practices associated with the state of wholeness and simultaneously that state itself.) Unfortunately tapas usually is interpreted to mean that anything which is difficult must be discipline and therefore must be helpful to spiritual unfoldment. But difficulty can create its own form of impediment. In fact, the ego is drawn to difficulty; challenging yoga poses can increase pride and attachment to being an “advanced” yoga student, for example.
Difficulty is a two-edged sword. Just because something is difficult does not mean it is transformational. Good things are sometimes difficult, but not all difficult things are good. If the concept of tapas is misunderstood it can be used as a reason to inflict yoga poses or practices upon one’s self. One can sometimes hear yoga students complaining/bragging about how hard their class was, or how long the teacher made them hold a pose. In this example it becomes clear that difficulty by itself is not enough to make an action a “tapas”.
Another way to understand tapas is to think of it as consistency. One of the highest disciplines is that of consistency: getting on the yoga mat every day, sitting on the meditation cushion every day, observing the antics of the mind every day, forgiving your mate or your child yet another time. If tapas is considered in this vein, then it becomes a more subtle practice, a practice that is concerned with the quality of life and relationships, not just with outlasting some
Perhaps one of the most clear examples of the practice of tapas is marriage. Marriage requires commitment, consistency and love. Without any of these three things, marriage does not work. When these qualities are present however, we can celebrate the good days and hang on through the bad ones. Tapas requires the same things. When we bring a commitment born of love to our consistent practice of yoga, we are practicing the niyama of tapas. It is with this spirit of abiding in the midst of difficulty which is at the heart of tapas.
A dear yoga teacher friend of mine died recently. At her memorial service it was said that during her life she “made the hard decisions with a soft heart”. This is the spirit of tapas: the willingness to follow through with difficult decisions while maintaining compassion for all the effects that those decisions might have for self and others. Tapas is ultimately measured in the consistent willingness to begin practice again and again, over and over again to bring awareness to this very moment. Ultimately nothing is more difficult than consistency.
4 ways I am going to work on cultivating tapas this week:
1.let go of things that are difficult and not good, sometimes the end is not justified by the means. Prioritize in my life where I need to struggle and where I don’t. Make a DO NOT DO list.
2. Dedicate daily devotion to my yoga practice. Even if that means 30 minutes at 11pm. It’s so important to me, and excuses will not get in my way this week.
3. Devote time to my marriage. My husband is AMAZING. I love him so dearly. But I can always be a better wife by doing things for him that he would appreciate, and being more consistent.
4. Consider others point of view in tough situations. This one is never easy, but compassion, love and real listening should be a part of every conversation… even the ones I don’t want to be in. Good luck yogis! Best wishes with a week full of consistent devotion to someone or something that you love.