Today, let's explore the third niyama of Patanjali's 8 Limbs of Yoga, Tapas. No, that's not those delicious little snacks you find throughout Spain, here we are referring to the heat or friction that is formed when we do something with discipline and rigor.
I was just about to write that I love talking about this niyama, and then remembered I must say that about all of them! ( See list of previous blog posts of all the yamas and niyamas here.)
I think we are familiar that if something is too easy in the start, it probably won't turn out great in the end, likewise, when something seems very difficult in the beginning, it often turns out very satisfying in the end, if we can keep the sustained effort required to make it through to the end. Tapas is that sustained effort and discipline, it is that fire under our metaphorical bums that keeps us moving and stops us from giving up. However, as the tapas rise, so will the discomfort level, we just have to understand that before the breakthrough there is usually some sense of wanting to breakdown, to give up or give in.
Tapas is created in choosing not what is easy, but what is right. It's far easier saying yes to that glass of wine instead of explaining your choice not to drink, it's far easier to lay in bed instead of getting up early to do some exercise, it's easy to order a take away instead of making a healthy dinner from scratch but are these easy options going to be truly gratifying in the end? When we try to bring in discipline into our lives, it can cause friction. This friction is a result of going against our normal habits, of trying to swim against the easy flow of the current, but it is precisely this friction that causes the heat that sparks a fire within us and it is through this fire that transformation happens. Having discipline is not easy, but it is often essential when we are wanting to see results and change.
I have worked with people who come to me on a one to one basis looking for help with an injury or physical ailment who have already gotten clear instructions by their doctor or physio of the exercises they should do every morning or night to bring them relief and healing. The only problem is, they don't have the self discipline to actually do this simple routine by themselves, so they pay me to come along and make sure they do it. I mean, of course I won't complain! I am grateful for the work, but I always leave feeling guilty as the benefit has nothing to do with me, and with just a little bit more self determination, they could be healed and happy in no time, with a bit of extra cash in their pocket too!
I also see tapas useful in my relationships too. Sure, it's wonderful to have a relationship that is always sweet and perfect - never any arguments or differing opinions about things, but I have grown the most in my life through my relationships. Of course, we grow through loving and supportive relationships with no doubt, but we must not undervalue the importance of challenge. I am blessed to have a partner who is not afraid to challenge me, to challenge my thinking and behaviours for it is through that reflection that I truly feel I can see where the work still needs to be done and where I am forgetting myself. It is through the friction that we begin to escavaste and look into the stuff we've buried deep down so that we can properly lay our foundations strong and sturdy, or else - like building a house over a tree root, it all may push up to the surface one day and cracks start to appear in the walls. I'm sure we all had differing opinions with our parents at some point or another. Coming from a place of life experience and wisdom they often showed us different perspectives or gave us advice we simply didn't want to hear leading to tension and possibly an argument. Usually, it is in those moments that reveal a valuable lesson, whether we realise it at the time or in retrospect.
Now is a good time to clarify that choosing the most difficult path doesn't always necessarily mean that it is better. Hence why I put in brackets the word sometimes. It can easily be taken as a rule, and that isn't the case. We need to be mindful how we interpret this. If we take it too literally, we will not trust anything that comes easily or perhaps naturally and almost become addicted to the struggle. For instance, in our yoga practice we could translate this as only the most difficult yoga postures are good for us, the harder it is or the more it makes us sweat and ache the better for us it most be. That is simply just not the case. Sometimes the practice that causes the most friction, is the restorative pose where you are doing absolutely nothing, with no effort at all. For some, that is where friction is created. Yes, tapas is created through holding chair pose for 10 breaths, but isn't tapas also in just showing up on your mat when your mind told you a million excuses why not to? It's the discipline, not always the poses themselves that allows us to practice tapas. So it's all relevant to our perspective.
Tapas is not only created by discomfort or tension, it can also be from something that brings us pleasure or joy. Passion can also be a transformative heat and be considered tapas. When someone is truly passionate about a dream or an idea, they will always find the strength and courage to persevere even when the going gets tough and all of their chips are down. Passion keeps the spirit alive, and that fighting spirit within us strong. When we are passionate, we are excited and excitement is a great motivator indeed!
Friction creates fire, and fire burns. When we practice tapas both on and off the mat, we are creating transformation. We are burning away old patterns, old beliefs, changing new habits, and changing for the better. It might not always be easy, but often it is worth it. To make it through challenging times, challenging practices, we have to tap into that inner fire within, whether it is through discipline and focus or through the fire of love and passion.
If we could measure the amount of tapas in our life right now by the chili marking we could get on our food labels, how much tapas is showing up in our life right now?