I recently taught a short fiery series centered on Tapas, one of the five personal observances (Niyama) according to the Yoga Sutras, that help us along the yogic path. Tapas means, “to heat” and also “austerity ” or “discipline”. It’s winter so it makes sense to spice up the physical practice and counteract the cold, heavy, damp, sluggish like qualities of the season. The heat built from tapas helps us to purify and cleanse out the physical and mental gunk that can weigh us down. Sometimes we need to fire things up in our practice and in life, to create a positive shift or change to happen. Tapas is always a component when we do.
The purpose of the element of Fire is to transform, purify and illuminate. In yogic philosophy, the purest essence of our inner fire is called Tejas. Tejas gives us the ability of right discernment, will power, courage, insight and radiance of spirit. Tejas is the force that helps us evolve our Buddhi, our higher conscious mind, and develop in our spiritual lives. Tejas is what comes from cultivating and strengthening both body and mind through the purifying steady heat of Tapas.
One of the most common comments I hear from students is that they just can’t seem to practice at home. Or they don’t do it with any kind of consistency. They love yoga and know the benefit they’d receive from a personal practice but for whatever reason they don’t do it. That’s where the practice of Tapas, comes in. Every single time you overcome habitual resistance, really to any kind of change, it is going to create some inner friction. You’re going to build heat from the self discipline it takes.
One of my favorite teachers spoke about Tapas and how we often think of applying discipline or austerity to ourselves in a negative way. She pointed out that the word discipline comes from the root word “disciple”, a person who is devoted to a spiritual master or Guru. If we can begin to think of ourselves as a disciple to the self understanding and benefit we receive from Yoga, our practice then becomes an act of self love and devotion. Yoga brings us into a direct experience with ourselves as our own teacher, our own Guru. Guru after all means, “the light that dispels the darkness”. It’s about devoting to the LIGHT of self knowledge we gain through our having our own practice.
So there is no magic pill to start or stick to a personal practice. I know for me, my daily practice is like medicine now. I simply can’t go with it. It took a steady heavy dose of Tapas, plain and simple, to get me there. And yes, devotion. You’ve got to write yourself a daily prescription to overcome resistance to it. Pick a number 3, 5, 10, 20 minutes to start, a doable and honest number for you. Write down that number and what practice you are going to do and then devote to it like a disciple would to a teacher. Don’t admonish yourself if you miss a day, just get back on the Tapas wagon and keep at it. You’ll see that as your will power builds, the heat you create from it begins to take on a life of its own. You’ll come to love that time with yourself and the light your inner Guru shares with you. That’s when you build up the radiant force of Tejas. The purest essence of fire that will help you illuminate and courageously burn through anything that no longer serves your highest and most joyful self. There’s good stuff, there. Light it. Tend to it. Nurture it. With all the love in your heart.