The Power and Purpose of Tapas in Yoga • Basics of Yoga
Tapas is a powerful and ancient yogic tool that can help us achieve personal transformation beyond our perceived limitations. This fiery, disciplined practice allows us to tap into a source of inner strength and vitality that directs our practice to new depths and helps us realize our true potential. By developing inner strength and perseverance through this type of willpower yoga, we can overcome obstacles, overcome challenges, and develop the inner fire that fuels our yoga practice. Practicing tapas can enable us to make positive changes, deepen our spiritual practice, and help us achieve our goals.
What is tapas?
Word tapas comes from the Sanskrit root “kran” meaning to heat or burn. In yoga, this refers to the practice of self-discipline, self-control, perseverance, and austerity. Ancient yogis discovered that fiery passion is necessary for spiritual awakening and transformation. It involves a conscious effort to let go of our negative ego-driven habits, attachments, and desires and develop positive qualities such as determination, focus, and willpower.
In essence, Tapas is about doing what you don’t want to do, or not doing what you want to do, and will have a positive impact on your daily life. It should be something simple and small enough to be successful, but also complex and challenging enough to engage the will.
Tapas is practiced as an act of devotion and should be selfless and less ego. Spiritual discipline transforms and purifies us and enables us to become consciously aware of and control unconscious impulses and bad behavior. This yoga practice develops willpower and personal strength, which helps us become more committed to our yoga practice and spiritual path.
The third niyama
Tapas is one of the five niyamas (personal observances) in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, one of the founding texts of yoga philosophy, which describes the eight parts of yoga practice. Tapas follows the niyamas of sauka (purity) and santosha (contentment), which are similar practices that help us purify and develop a healthy body and mind.
How does tapas work?
When our will conflicts with the desires of our ego-mind, an inner “fire” arises that illuminates and burns away our mental, emotional, and physical defilements. This inner fire can also be used as a source of spiritual energy; yogis say that only the practice of Tapas can lead to the liberation of kundalini and the attainment of enlightenment.
The transformative energy that tapas practice creates allows you to overcome obstacles and achieve your goals, both on and off the yoga mat. It helps us develop the mental and physical strength needed to persevere and overcome adversity. With practice, we can develop the endurance, focus, and discipline necessary to reach our highest potential and deepen our spiritual journey.
Tapas, agni and the element of fire
Two yogic concepts closely related to the idea of igniting your inner fire are agni and the element of fire. Agni is a Sanskrit word that means fire and is related to the digestive fire in the body. In yoga, agni is seen as a metaphor for transformation and purification. It represents the ability to transform the food we eat into energy, and the ability to transform our thoughts and emotions into positive actions. The element of fire governs the transformative power of the universe, including the digestion of food, the creation of energy, and the burning of impurities.
Three types of tapas
The practice of Tapas in the Bhagavad Gita (17:14) is divided into three areas: body, speech and mind. In the body, the practice of tapas involves creating purity, chastity, honesty, nonviolence, and worship. The use of language involves the use of kind, true and useful words. The practice of Tapas in our mind involves the use of gentleness, silence, compassion and self-restraint.
Benefits of tapas in yoga
Strengthening yogic willpower has many benefits. This can help you develop self-discipline, focus and perseverance, which are essential qualities for any yoga practitioner. By mastering tapas, you can cultivate a deeper sense of inner strength that will help you overcome obstacles and challenges both on and off the mat. A vigorous, intentional yoga practice can help you develop the physical strength, endurance, and flexibility that are important for maintaining a healthy body and preventing injury. Additionally, practicing tapas can help you develop a greater sense of mindfulness and awareness. By embracing discomfort and overcoming physical and mental limitations, you can learn to be more present in the moment and fully engage in your yoga practice.
Tapas will also make you a better person. This can help you develop positive qualities such as patience, kindness and compassion. It can boost your sense of self-worth and confidence, allowing you to live a fuller and happier life. Through regular tapas practice, you become more aware of your thoughts, emotions, and actions. You will learn to observe them without judgment and choose your responses wisely. This can lead to a more calm, focused and balanced state of mind. Greater control over your mind and emotions can lead to more positive and productive relationships with others.
Burn your samskaras
Samskaras are imprints or patterns that are deeply ingrained in our subconscious through past experiences and actions. They can influence our thoughts, emotions and behavior, often leading to negative patterns and limiting beliefs. Tapas is a powerful tool in yoga that can help burn away these samskaras, allowing us to release old patterns and create new ones.
To use tapas to transform samskaras, focus on an area of your life where you feel stuck or limited. It can be a habit, a relationship, or a repetitive negative thinking pattern. Then commit to practicing tapas in that area every day. This could include practicing a difficult yoga pose, meditating on a mantra, or taking a cold shower every morning. Whatever you choose, the important thing is to always stick with it, even when it seems inconvenient or difficult. Over time, the heat and intensity of tapas will help burn away old samskaras, creating space for new positive patterns to emerge. This process can be challenging, but it is also incredibly liberating and transformative.
Incorporate tapas into your yoga routine
The inner fire of tapas can be cultivated through physical postures, focused breathing and meditation. This inner warmth can help clear the body and mind, burn away negative emotions and thoughts, and increase energy and vitality. By reaching our potential and putting effort into our practice, we create a sense of warmth and intensity within the body that can help us burn away impurities and negative tendencies.
There are many ways to cultivate tapas during your yoga practice, but some of the most effective include:
- Goal setting
One of the best ways to cultivate tapas in your yoga practice is to set a goal. This can be anything from mastering a particular yoga pose or sequence to following a regular schedule of classes. Setting a clear goal can help you stay motivated, focused, and disciplined.
- By practicing consistently
Consistency and dedication are key to developing tapas in your yoga practice. This means regularly showing up at your mat, even when you don’t feel like it. Set aside a specific time each day or week for training and stick to it as much as possible. Over time, you will build momentum and see progress in your practice.
- Push your limits
Tapas is a step outside the comfort zone. This doesn’t mean you should push yourself to the point of injury or exhaustion, but challenge yourself to try new poses or hold them longer. This can be done gradually, adding more difficult poses to your practice over time, or simply holding the pose for a few extra breaths each time you practice it. You can also push your limits by taking more challenging classes or workshops and practicing more often.
- Cultivating focus and concentration
Meditation is an important component of developing tapas in your yoga practice. By meditating regularly, you train your mind to focus and focus, which helps you stay committed to your practice. Start by setting aside a few minutes each day for meditation, gradually increasing the time as you deepen your practice. Over time, you’ll notice greater clarity and focus both on and off the mat.
Like fire, excessive intensity can be destructive. Balancing tapas is crucial to its effectiveness. It is important to approach tapas with the right intention and purpose. It should not be used as a means of punishment or self-harm, but rather as a tool to cultivate self-discipline and inner strength. Work to find the right amount of effort and intensity that challenges us yet allows us to grow and thrive.
It is a tool for transformation and should be approached with passion and zeal, not self-denial and punishment. “Real tapas make us shine like the sun,” says Georg Feuerstein. “Then we can be a source of warmth and strength for others.”
Balancing with ahimsa
It is important to balance tapas with ahimsa, the yoga practice of non-harm or non-violence towards self and others. This means that when we strive to achieve our goals, we must do so with kindness and respect for our bodies and minds. This means listening to your body, taking breaks when necessary, and avoiding going beyond your limits. Finding a balance between tapas and ahimsa is essential for people to ignite their inner fire and reach their full potential. Therefore, it is important to incorporate both practices into our yoga practice and daily life to achieve optimal physical, mental and spiritual health.
Balancing with compassion and contentment
When practicing tapas, it is important to balance purposeful effort and will with compassion. Pushing beyond your comfort zone to achieve your goals is necessary, but pushing yourself too hard and causing injury or illness is not. It is important to follow the second niyama santoshi and be content with where you are in your practice and spiritual path. The key is the balance between discipline and kindness and moving towards your dream while enjoying the beauty of the journey. When it comes to your yoga practice, it’s important to listen to your body and not let your ego talk you out of your limits.
Incorporating tapas into your yoga practice can be a powerful tool for igniting your inner fire and achieving personal transformation. By setting intentions and practicing self-discipline, we can develop the mental and physical strength necessary to overcome obstacles and achieve our goals. When we tap into this inner fire, we connect with our innermost self and can live purposeful and fulfilling lives. Whether on or off the mat, tapas can help us overcome challenges and ignite our inner flame.
The divine within you is stronger than anything that exists outside of you. So don’t be afraid of anything. Rely on your Inner Self, on the Divinity within you. Touch the source while looking inward. Improve yourself. Shape your character. Cleanse the heart. Cultivate divine virtues. Eradicate evil traits. Conquer everything that is important to you. Strive to achieve everything worthy and noble. Make the lower nature the servant of the higher by discipline, Tapas, self-restraint and meditation. This is the beginning of your freedom. — Swami Satchidananda