Igniting Tapas: Self Discipline
“With self-discipline, almost anything is possible.”
~ Theodore Roosevelt
Tapas are not only delicious Spanish plates, but in ancient Sanskrit, tapas refers to the fire (self-discipline) that spurs our motivations, our goals and dreams. And it is with the structure of discipline and determination that we are then able to inspire ourselves into action.
Patanjali places Tapas as one of the moral codes in his Yoga Sutras to guide us towards a deeper practice on and off the yoga mat. We often fear “discipline” because we can project our feelings of how it limits us and makes us feel like we have no control over our destiny, but that is Ego and fear talking. By cultivating Tapas and refining our self-discipline, we actually create the passion and courage to burn away ‘impurities’ physically, mentally and emotionally – we emerge into fullest potential.
The Yoga Practice
Yoga is a PRACTICE. It requires hours of dedication on and off the mat. Does a pianist, dancer or actor perform skillfully and authentically without hours of dedicated practice? Maybe you have goals of wrapping your legs around your head some day, maybe you don’t. It’s wonderful to have physical goals as marker points because it creates a feeling of progression. But it’s not vital that your goals be guided by how strong or flexible you become. Perhaps, your goal is be stronger and painfree, while becoming mentally focused and emotionally free. Despite the yoga practice appearing to be seemingly physical from the outside eye, the point of the yoga practice in the end is freedom. Freedom to be who we Truly are, and that involves the WHOLE body. Mind, Body and Spirit.
Tapas is our inner Sage that motivates us to keep going even when our Ego tells us it would rather do something else. Making the decision to go to bed a little bit earlier to wake up for an early practice is Tapas. Making the decision to spend less time with exhausting people and setting more time aside for yourself is Tapas. The root of the word Tapas is “Tap” which means to burn. When you come to class, you are burning away the negative thought patterns and habits to which we have defaulted. Of course, it’s much easier to go through life on autopilot. By all means, if your goal is to walk around like a passionless zombie doing what society told you to ‘think’ will make you happy, no one can stop you. But if you wish to lead a happy, purposeful and meaningful life, it’s not an easy task. It’s actually difficult. Bruce Lee acknowledges this by telling us: “Do not pray for an easy life, pray for the strength to endure a difficult one.”
Happiness is a state you exist in. It is a feeling that you experience. It is not through the intellect that you can summon happiness. Whether you are an artist, athlete or perpetual desk-junkie, you know that after a yoga class, when you lay in shavasana and go through meditation, there is an experience of coming home – an experience of coming more into contact with your blissful Self.
In the Real World
For some it’s easier than others. I have always had ‘structure’ in my life from piano lessons at a young age to martial arts with my Kung Fu master. All forced by my parents initially, but eventually I craved the hours and hours of practice over time. Sometimes we need that extra bit of encouragement from an outside influence. Ideally, that encouragement is internally developed.
It’s very much like me writing these Sageblogs. At the end of each month, I sit and meditate on what the theme is for the following month. Sometimes, my intellect tells me, logically I should do a certain topic because it’s easier or it is in sequence with how the Yoga Sutras actually unfold, but then sometimes my intuition sings a different tune. Sometimes, there’s a moment of confusion and I do not want to write at all. Then that muscle of tapas I have trained and have ingrained in myself reminds me of the community of yogis I’m serving. In order for me to help develop the Tapas in others, I need to keep my internal tapas strong. I do that through the physical yoga practice, pilates, Gyrotonic, meditation, music and actively inspiration form others. As part of my practical internal work, I am constantly finding situations in life where there are imbalances between the intellect and the intuition. My task is then to marry my intellect with my intuition as a mental and emotional checks and balances – to train an intrinsic recognition of yin and yang.
The next time you’re faced with a real life challenge that is not related to a yoga pose, observe how you deal with it. The more you observe, that obstacle is exactly like a yoga pose. Maybe you’re not tipping upside down into a handstand, but the fear of failing, the fear of imperfection and not being good enough, the fear of self-judgment is definitely the same. But just like coming to class and conquering all the obstacles you are given, you continue on and feel magnificent in the end. And so you do the same in your real life situations. That’s the real reason you should challenge yourself in coming to class as often as you can. Essentially, you are training yourself to be a more adaptable, powerful, passionate and freer human being.