Tapas…..not the Spanish food type, but the Sanskrit, Hindu, yoga type is one to cultivate.
It is one of the eight limbs of yoga, being the third of the five Niyamas. It is Sanskrit for discipline, heat and austerity. It comes from the root word ‘tap’ meaning to burn, and refers to the internal discipline, fire and drive that we draw on when we are determined.
Implementation begins with an intention to overcome a challenge. In order to do this we draw on discipline, drive, courage, focus and effort to stay on the task or the path at hand. The process also requires endurance to stay on the path for as long as it takes. The transition and transformation we experience “burns” unhealthy and unhelpful habits and thought patterns that hold us back from living our clearest and highest Self.
As tapas is an internal discipline it cannot be measured by difficulty. The task, for example asana, doesn’t have to be difficult. More importantly it is steady, consistent and subtle. There is no expectation of reward, and the mind remains balanced (equanimous). Simple things like turning up to your yoga mat or meditation cushion when you don’t feel like it, turning the t.v. off before being sucked into another program, doing something because it is the right thing to do, not because there is a reward, these demonstrate tapas.
To give some more examples.
Tapas of the body are things like cleanliness, respect, non violence, compassion.
Tapas of the mind are things like keeping negative thoughts in check, concentration, silence, contentment.
Tapas of speech can be truthfulness, not gossiping, only speaking when necessary or helpful.
So, how to cultivate tapas?
Learn to distinguish between the different voices and the different 'selves’ we hold inside. There will be a higher aspect of self who decides the day before to set the alarm for 5am to get up and practise. At 5am it is a lower aspect of self that chooses to switch the alarm off and get more sleep. It is a choice which one we listen to and which we ignore. Holding the intention, your reason WHY and the end goal (without expectation to results) strengthens willpower, the power house to Tapas. A strong 'why’ will bring conviction to your actions.
A consistent regime like yoga, meditation or other sport training can work with all of these examples. Focusing on the body, breath, and intention while keeping in check the gossip and negative thoughts requires discipline. Observing the process will help you burn through the layers of mental, physical and emotional “stuff” that we all carry around.
So how can we add tapas to our life?
Try giving something up for a day, a week, a month- your mobile phone, electronic devises, t.v., talking, coffee. Or is there something that you are avoiding that can be added? Housework, organisation, responsibilities, exercise? Try setting some time for it into your schedule.
Think of it like this, our mental resolve is like a muscle that the more we practise the stronger our confidence and courage in ourself and our mental strength becomes.
Schedule it in and watch what happens. How does your perspective change?