Tapas is Sanskrit for austerity or discipline, and it is the third of Patanjali’s Niyamas. The niyamas are moral codes that encourage positive behavior. Tapas is all about perseverance, and burning enthousiasm. When we look at the etymology of this Sanskrit term, it comes from the verb ‘tap,’ meaning ‘to burn’, giving a feel of a passionate, fiery discipline. I call it an umff. You can train your willpower like you would train a muscle. If the words discipline and willpower make you cringe, some extra practice on the navel (manipura) chakra can help you to create a more harmonious resonance with these concepts. There are so many other things you can do, which I will share in this blog.
The essential aspect to the “methodology” of the practice of tapas is that you decide to do X action for X amount of time, and that you stick to it and do not break it – no matter what (unless it’s a life or death situation of course!). And if you do, the next day you double it up, meaning you do double the practice. For example: you could take a tapas to practice trikonasana (the triangle pose) every day for one week for 5 minutes at a time. The idea is also that you begin with something realistic, so that you set yourself up for success. It is interesting to note (speaking from personal experience) that once you set a tapas, you will be challenged! For example, you set a tapas to fast every Thursday for a month, and you get invited to a birthday party on one of those Thursdays. You can still go to the party, and have a good time, yet not eating and honouring your commitment to your tapas! It is important to stick to your tapas and resist the temptation. I read somewhere once that temptation is the Universe’s compassionate way of letting you go through the consequences of an action in your mind without actually having to go through them in real life and I found that really inspiring! Excuse me for not recalling where I read that – it was about a year ago, and it really stuck with me. Sticking to your tapas will greatly increase your willpower.
In spirituality, the practice of tapas boosts and speeds up the process of spiritual evolution. It’s one a challenge in spirituality for many, yet it is something that can most certainly be overcome through willpower, commitment, and devotion to the intention. Practicing tapas together with a group of fellow yogis and/or yoginis can be very valuable, as the supporting energy of the group makes a huge difference. The motivation factor is multiplied and it’s also a very beautiful way to connect with other yogis in a different way.
What is a great way to cultivate inner fire?
The answer is: TAPAS! We are not talking about the delicious snacks from Spain! There are two types of inner fire: there is kamagni, which is generated by stress, and yogagni, which is generated through the practice of yoga—pranayama and postures. The latter one is the one we want to call in, especially in times where a healthy inner fire is needed to stay healthy and stay focus on our purpose regardless of the circumstances.
WAYS TO STRENGTHEN YOUR OBSERVANCE & PRACTICE OF TAPAS:
*Feel free to add to the list if you get the idea!
1. Practice asanas, pranayamas, meditation that work on manipura chakra.For example: uddiyana bandha (the abdominal lock), nabhyasana (the boat pose) , mayurasana (the peacock pose), simhasana (lion pose), and bhastrika (the breath of fire).
2. Intermittent fasting: fast one day a week (either sunrise to sunset, or for 24 hours. It is also moreover known to be purifying and great for your health.
3. Seek advise: ask one of our yoga teachers to advise you on how you can set up a useful tapas in your home practice.
4. Just do it: Take a “useless” (but harmless!) tapas for the sake of tapas. This means that you are not necessarily doing a Yoga technique, it can be something like emptying a box of matches and putting them back in the box. It sounds simple. But try it, and some of you will see how much resistance will come up, you might be surprised! The point of the exercise is to strengthen your willpower.
5. Call in Tripura Bhairavi: For the slightly more mystically inclined yogis among you, she is the fifth off the 10 Mahavidyas, which is Sanskrit for “the Great Knowing Ones/Knowledges, also known as Goddesses in part of the Tantric Yoga Philosophy which focuses on the worship of Shakti/the Divine Feminine. Tripura Bhairavi is the Goddess of spiritual action, effort, inner fire, and tapas. Meditating with her will help you to cultivate the spiritual energy of inner fire that flows through the practice of tapas. If you are interested learning more about the 10 Mahavidyas, I would highly recommend you read Tantric Visions of the Divine Feminine: The Ten Mahavidyas Paperback by David Kinsley (1997), and Tantric Yoga and the Wisdom Goddesses (Spiritual Secrets of Ayurveda) by Dr. David Frawley (1994). These two books are great!
6. Align your words with your actions
Have the willpower to follow through with what you say you will do. Whether you make an agreement with yourself or with someone else, the commitment is just as important!
IMPROVING YOUR LIFE THROUGH TAPAS
You can improve your relationship with any area of your life through the practice of tapas. For example, if you would like to improve your relationship to time (although a very abstract concept in and of itself!), you could take a tapas (consecrated spiritual effort) related to that – such as committing to wake up every single day at the same time, no matter what, or to do meditations with the energy of Kali (the first of the 10 Mahavidyas). If you would like to improve your relationship with food, try fasting one day of the week (fasting is known to have amazing healing benefits anyway so you would be doing yourself a wholesome favour! If you have any ailments, do consult with your doctor or physician first before going on any fast that is longer than a day; and just to add: do your research, I am only sharing an idea here!). Again, sometimes it’s also a good idea to ask for some advice, especially if you are in doubt.
Your commitment to the sadhana (spiritual practice) is personal. You can really go deep if you want and are doing it with aspiration. The outcome is not always 100% quite like you may have wanted or expected, but it is always exactly what you need.
Discipline, willpower, and perseverance will get you far in life. It’s what makes the difference between the dreamers and the achievers. Embrace the stop-complaining-and-just-do-it-mentality. Empower yourself. To take a tapas is to consecrate a spiritual effort. Stop waiting around for a miracle to happen and start taking some action!
May the inner fire in all of us continue to harmoniously burn, keeping us pure, and keeping us moving peacefully through it all!