Tapas is a powerful and ancient yoga tool that can help us achieve personal transformation by pushing ourselves beyond our perceived limitations. This fiery disciplined practice enables us to tap into a wellspring of inner strength and vitality that drives our practice to new depths and helps us achieve our true potential. By developing inner-strength and perseverance through this type of yogic will power, we can overcome obstacles, push through challenges, and cultivate the inner fire that fuels our practice of yoga. Practicing tapas can empower us to make positive changes, deepen our spiritual practice, and help us achieve our goals.
What is Tapas?
The word tapas is derived from the Sanskrit root “tap,” which means to heat or to burn. In yoga, it refers to the practice of self-discipline, self-control, perseverance, and austerity. The ancient yogis discovered that a fiery passion is necessary for spiritual awakening and transformation. It involves the conscious effort to burn away our negative habits, attachments, and ego-driven desires, and cultivate positive qualities such as determination, focus, and willpower.
Essentially, Tapas is doing something you do not want to do or not doing something you want to do and will have a positive effect on one’s everyday life. It should be something simple and small enough to become successful at, but should also be difficult and challenging enough to engage the will.
Tapas is practiced as an act of devotion and must be selfless and ego less. Spiritual discipline transforms and purifies us and enables the conscious awareness and control over unconscious impulses and poor behavior. This yogic practice builds will power and personal strength that helps us become more dedicated 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 foundational texts of yoga philosophy which describes the eight limbs of yoga practice. Tapas follows the niyamas of sauca (cleanliness) and santosha (contentment) which are all similar practices that help us purify and cultivate a healthy body and mind.
How does tapas work?
When our will conflicts with the desires of our ego-mind an internal “fire” is created which illuminates and burns up our mental, emotional and physical impurities. This inner fire can also be used as a source of spiritual energy; the yogis say the sole practice of Tapas can lead to the release of kundalini and attainment of enlightenment.
The transformative energy generated by practicing tapas us overcome obstacles and achieve our goals, both on and off the yoga mat. It helps us cultivate the mental and physical strength we need to persevere and overcome challenges. With practice, we can develop the endurance, focus, and discipline necessary to attain our highest potential and deepen our spiritual journey.
Tapas, agni and the fire element
Two yogic concepts that are closely related to the idea of igniting your inner fire are agni and the fire element. Agni is the Sanskrit word for fire and is associated with the digestive fire in the body. In yoga, agni is viewed as a metaphor for transformation and purification. It represents the ability to transform the food we eat into energy, as well as the ability to transform our thoughts and emotions into positive actions. The fire element governs the transformative power of the universe, including the digestion of food, the creation of energy and the burning away of impurities.
Three types of tapas
The practice of Tapas in the Bhagavad-Gita (17:14) is broken down into three realms: body, speech and mind. In the body, the practice of tapas involves creating purity, chastity, honesty, non-violence and worship. Using speech involves using kind, truthful, and beneficial words. Practicing Tapas in our minds involves using gentleness, silence, compassion and self-restraint.
Benefits of tapas in yoga
There are many benefits of strengthening your yogic will power. It 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 strong, willful yoga practice can help you build physical strength, endurance, and flexibility, which are all important for maintaining a healthy body and preventing injury. Moreover, the practice of tapas can help you develop a greater sense of mindfulness and awareness. By embracing discomfort and pushing through physical and mental limitations, you can learn to be more present in the moment and fully engaged in your yoga practice.
Tapas will also make you a better person. It can help you cultivate positive qualities such as patience, kindness, and compassion. It can increase your sense of self-worth and confidence, allowing you to live a more fulfilling and happy life. Through regular practice of tapas, you become more aware of your thoughts, emotions, and actions. You learn to observe them without judgment and to choose your responses wisely. This can lead to a more calm, centered, and balanced state of mind. Having greater control over your mind and emotions can lead to more positive and productive relationships with others.
Burn up your samskaras
Samskaras are imprints or patterns that are deeply embedded in our subconscious minds due to past experiences and actions. They can affect our thoughts, emotions, and behavior, often leading to negative patterns and limiting beliefs. Tapas is a powerful tool in yoga that can help burn up these samskaras, allowing us to release old patterns and create new ones.
To use tapas to transform samskaras, focus on a specific area of your life where you feel stuck or limited. This could be a habit, a relationship, or a recurring negative thought pattern. Then, commit to a daily practice of tapas in that area. This could involve practicing a challenging yoga pose, meditating on a mantra, or taking a cold shower every morning. Whatever you choose, the key is to stick with it consistently, even when it feels uncomfortable or difficult. Over time, the heat and intensity of tapas will help to burn away the old samskaras, creating space for new, positive patterns to emerge. This process can be challenging, but it is also incredibly liberating and transformative.
Incorporating tapas in your yoga routine
The inner fire of tapas can be cultivated through the use of physical postures, focused breathing, and meditation. This inner heat can help purify the body and mind, burn away negative emotions and thoughts, and increase energy and vitality. By pushing ourselves to our limits and exerting effort in our practice, we create a sense of heat and intensity within the body that can help us burn away impurities and negative tendencies.
There are many ways to cultivate tapas in your yoga practice, but some of the most effective include:
- Setting a goal
One of the best ways to cultivate tapas in your yoga practice is to set a goal for yourself. This could be anything from mastering a particular yoga pose or sequence to committing to a regular practice schedule. Having a clear goal in mind can help you stay motivated, focused, and disciplined.
- Practicing consistently
Consistency and commitment are key for cultivating tapas in your yoga practice. This means showing up to your mat regularly, even when you don’t feel like it. Set aside a specific time each day or week to practice, and stick to it as much as possible. Over time, you’ll build momentum and see progress in your practice.
- Pushing your limits
Tapas is all about pushing yourself beyond your 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 poses for longer periods of time. This can be done gradually, by incorporating more challenging poses into your practice over time, or by simply holding a pose for a few extra breaths each time you practice it. You can also push your limits by attending more challenging classes or workshops, and by practicing more frequently.
- Cultivating focus and concentration
Meditation is an essential component of cultivating tapas in your yoga practice. By meditating regularly, you train your mind to focus and concentrate, which helps you stay committed to your practice. Start by setting aside a few minutes each day for meditation, gradually increasing the time as your practice deepens. Over time, you will notice greater clarity and concentration both on and off the mat.
Like fire, too much 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 to punish or harm oneself, but rather as a tool to cultivate self-discipline and inner strength. Work to finding the right amount of effort and intensity that challenges us, but also allows us to grow and thrive.
It is a tool for transformation and should be approached with an attitude of passion and zeal rather than of self-denial and chastisement. “Genuine Tapas makes 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 yogic practice of non-harming or non-violence towards ourselves and others. This means that as we strive to achieve our goals, we must do so with kindness and respect for our bodies and minds. This involves listening to our bodies, taking breaks when needed, and avoiding pushing ourselves beyond our limits. Finding a balance between Tapas and Ahimsa is essential for individuals to ignite their inner fire and reach their fullest potential. Therefore, it is important to incorporate both practices into our yoga practice and daily lives to achieve optimal physical, mental, and spiritual health.
Balancing with compassion and contentment
When practicing tapas, it’s important to balance focused effort and will with compassion. Going beyond your comfort zone to achieve your goals is necessary, but pushing yourself too hard and causing injury or illness is not worth it. It’s important to observe the second niyama of santosha and be content with where you are at in your practice and spiritual path. Balancing discipline with benevolence and pushing yourself towards your dreams while still enjoying the beauty of the journey is key. When it comes to your yoga practice, it’s important to listen to your body and not let ego convince you to push past your limits.
Incorporating tapas into a yoga practice can be a powerful tool for stoking the inner fire and achieving personal transformation. By setting intentions and practicing self-discipline, we can cultivate the mental and physical strength needed to overcome obstacles and achieve our goals. When we tap into this inner fire, we connect with our innermost selves and are better able to live a life of purpose and fulfillment. Whether on or off the mat, embracing tapas can help us to conquer challenges and ignite our own inner flames.
The divine within you is stronger than anything that is without you. Therefore, be not afraid of anything. Rely on your own Inner Self, the Divinity within you. Tap the source through looking within. Improve yourself. Build your character. Purify the heart. Develop the divine virtues. Eradicate evil traits. Conquer all that is base in you. Endeavor to attain all that is worthy and noble. Make the lower nature the servant of the higher through discipline, Tapas, self-restraint and meditation. This is the beginning of your freedom. — Swami Satchidananda