Tapa’s – Self Discipline
“KÁYENDRIYA SIDDHI ASUDDHI KSAYÁT TAPASAH”
“From austerity impurity is removed and we gain mastery over the senses.”
When we enter into the new year we tend to set intentions for the year ahead and these intentions or resolutions are more often then not a result of seeking positive change. This is why the third Niyama Tapas is perfect for this time of year.
Tapas is the sanskrit word for heat, heat and fire means transformation or change. The element of fire changes one substance into another, it transforms ice into water and water into steam. Therefore Tapas is applying self discipline for the sake of positive change, the heat is generated by the friction between old habits and new habits rubbing up against each other and resistance we face at times of change.
Tapas can also be seen as the internal flame that motivates us and inspires us towards our goals and dreams. The problem with motivation is that it tends to come and go and on those days when motivation and enthusiasm is low you need self discipline (Tapas) to get you up and going. Practicing Tapas can be difficult and uncomfortable because it requires us to do things that we know we should do (we may even want to do them) but we don’t want to put the effort in, we just want the result. Tapas demands more of ourselves and in the words of Tony Robbins, it’s really asking us to raise our standards. The practice of Santosha (Contentment) can be beneficial to us here as it encourages us to look at the positive reasons as to why we are sitting in the discomfort of change and knowing that the discomfort will pass.
Tapas tests the limits of the body so we can see the power of who we are beyond the body, like Sauca (Purity and Cleanliness) we use gaining mastery over the senses to burn away impurities but unlike Sauca where the impurities are more physical, like exercising to remove the toxins that build up in the body and washing away the dirt on the skin, impurities in relation to Tapas, refers to the limitations we set upon ourselves and our false sense of self.
Tapas in Our Yoga Practice
In our yoga practice Tapas help us stay in the heat of uncomfortable sensations and motivates us to try more difficult poses while at the same time having the discipline to still practice Ahimsa (non-violence) by pulling us back when we get to big for our boots and are at risk of injuring ourselves. If you are the type of person that likes a really strong practice and finds sitting still in mediation or relaxation difficult, then for you practicing Tapas may involve trying to sit in mediation for one or two minutes longer than you normally do and if you don’t practice mediation then adding just one or two minutes a day may be enough to get you started. If your yoga practice is normally slow and meditative then pushing your physical boundaries will create that heat of Tapas. Try practicing poses that you normally avoid.
One of the best ways to practice Tapas is to pick ONE thing that you really want to do and start slowly. It may be journal-ling, meditating or a specific pose and commit to doing it for 1, 2, 5 or 10 minutes every day for a week or two. Then when that time is up, see if you can add to it. Observe and notice when you become impatient, when you notice these moments of irritation, then try practicing kindness or acceptance or perhaps marvel or laugh at how quickly we become impatient when things become just a little bit uncomfortable.
To be successful, the practice of self discipline should be something small and simple enough to succeed but at the same time difficult enough that it challenges our will. The Yogi’s believe that the conflict of our desire and will power causes an internal fire that illuminates and burns up our mental and physical impurities.
“Genuine Tapas makes us shine like the sun. Then we can be a source of warmth and strength for others”
Tapas is a tool for transformation and positive change and should be approached with an attitude of passion and enthusiasm rather than a form of self denial and punishment. Without tapas we’d never make it onto our mat and we’d be unlikely to get very far in life, it’s that inner discipline and determination that gets us up in the morning.
TAPAS IN ASANA
Eka Pada Phalakasana – One Leg Plank Pose
Eka – One
Pada – Foot/Leg
Phalak – (T fruit or to ripen) Plank
Asana – Pose
Level – Intermediate
Plank Pose is a simple but challenging pose that creates heat and fire in the body, when you add in the single leg version the demand becomes more intense. Plank teaches us to hold the body and move from a place of strength and stability, this strength and stability is an essential part of our practice and its needed for more complex poses. The ability to hold this pose with steadiness and ease is known to create major shifts in your practice and your life. Plank is the perfect pose to represent Tapas as its simple enough for everyone to do everyday while at the same its challenging enough to create positive change.
MENTAL AND EMOTIONAL BENEFITS
Builds mental endurance
Calms the mind
Increases Tapas in your practice
Activates the Solar Plexus (Manipura)
Strengthens wrists, shoulders and spine
Increases external and internal heat, giving your body a boost of energy
Builds physical endurance
Increases stamina and metabolism
CAN BE HELPFUL FOR
CAUTIONS AND CONTRAINDICATIONS
High blood pressure
Carpel tunnel (do forearm plank instead)
HINTS AND TIPS
If your wrists hurt you can place blocks under the heel of your hands or come onto your forearms
Keep both feet on the floor if you are new to the pose and only lift the leg when you can maintain a neutral spine and strong core
If still building strength in plank you could bring one knee to the floor and focus on keeping a neutral spine as you lift the leg.