Our Path to Peace has brought us to the third of the Niyama: Tapas.
Tapas is one of the more difficult of the Yama and Niyama to translate into one word. It’s not just self-discipline or passion. It can also be tolerance, change, transformation, effort, and catharsis.
Tapas not only addresses self-discipline and character building, it is also about what happens to us when we suffer. When we experience loss or tragedy. The things that happen to us in life that offer an opportunity for transformation, the times when we are humbled and amazed at our own strength all at once.
“To become something in the future takes effort in the now.”
Tapas asks us to stay when things get uncomfortable. To plow through the rocks. To move a mountain when a mountain needs to be moved. Tapas asks us to stay in the unpleasant situation instead of running away or hiding from the challenge.
This niyama guides us to use a tragedy, a crisis or a challenge to strengthen ourselves and hone our abilities. This is the concept of tapas.
When you have a bad breakup, a job loss, a challenging diagnosis—you can hide behind alcohol, bad behavior or even ignore it to the degree you can OR you can gather your inner strength, give yourself a mental hug, maintain a positive mindset and come out a better person for it. There is always a choice and always a plan. You have control of the outcome. Will you make it positive?
Be fearless in the fire and hold on for the blessing. Stay in the moment with integrity. Because you can. And you will be better for it.
The “discipline” of tapas does not mean pushing yourself harder in a physical sense—it simply means making a plan and sticking to it. Honoring a contract with yourself to give up dessert this week or go to yoga class every day.
Tapas calls on you to tap into your inner wisdom—that wisdom that says “even if I don’t feel like going to yoga right now I know I will feel better afterward if I do and probably worse if I don’t.”
“I really regret going to yoga today,” said no one, ever.
Tapas and Yoga
Getting on the mat is actually one of the best ways to build the discipline of tapas you will take out into the world and use in your everyday life. Breathing through a challenging pose or focusing during a balancing pose is great training for the challenges life will hand you off the mat and it provides proof of your ability to move past the uncomfortable or the scary. You know you can do it at yoga, if you can do it there, you can do it everywhere. Right?
You can then use your self-discipline, the inner strength and self trust you develop, to ignore those negative thoughts in your head that tell you you can’t…you can’t get that new job, you can’t lose 20 lbs., you’ll never be successful, you can’t do a headstand…it takes courage and self-discipline to move past that negative thinking and onward with life.
The lessons you will learn from facing your fears, battling through challenges and committing to hard work are the ones that will have the biggest and the most positive impact. Stick to it—you got this!
A few ways to test your tapas staying power this week:
- Commit to a yoga practice a day. And stick to it.
- Give up soft drinks and alcohol for the next 7 days.
- Begin journaling everyday (this is more about sticking to a plan than the catharsis of journaling but that too.)
- Commit to holding an asana you find challenging (challenging, not painful—there’s a difference) and usually come out of before it’s time to move on.
Find ways to put yourself in challenging situations that require a positive mindset and willpower to stick to them. Do the things you’ve wanted to do for yourself (or others) but continue to find excuses for “why not.” Why not now?
Give up choices that are indulgent for choices that will build your character. Remember the bigger picture vs. instant gratification. What you do today affects what happens tomorrow.