The third Niyama, Tapas, translates to discipline or ‘austerity’ and is derived from the root Sanskrit verb ‘tap’ which means ‘to burn’. Tapas means to cultivate fiery self-discipline, passion and courage so as to burn away ‘impurities’ physically, mentally and emotionally. Unfortunately (or fortunately), nothing that is worthwhile in life comes without diligent, consistent attention and investment of time and energy…..
Having said that,…..
Leaning towards the Type A personality, with a tendency to be dominant in the Ayurvedic dosha of Pita (fire), I have always experienced a love-hate relationship with discipline, whether it be pertaining to a healthy diet or exercise regime, a morning routine, a yoga or meditation practice, or work: I would naturally be very disciplined in anything I put my mind to, but then rebel from the rigidity of that by abandoning all discipline for a period of time, oscillating back and forth between these extremes. The key then with tapas, as with all things, is to find balance, and whenever we need to find balance, it always involves two polar opposites, with the underlying currents of the masculine and feminine principles.
Discipline can be viewed as a masculine approach, much like the solar, day time energy, whereas the feminine principle dwells in the moon and at night time. In fact, in the Vedas, It is said that each tithi (lunar day) has two aspects: Prakashamsa, which rules the day portion of the tithi, and Vimarshamsa, which rules the night portion of the tithi. At night the moon (Shakti, as our minds) reflect the sun’s (Shiva, as our Soul’s pure light) rays and She replenishes the nectar (bliss as the “sweetness “of life), while during the day the nectar is burned or consumed by the Sun in Agni (fire). Therefore, the main quality of the Moon and moonlight is to make things grow (rohana shakti of Rohini nakshatra), while the main quality of the Sun is to burn things (dahana shakti of Krittika nakshatra).
In this way, instead of being disciplined in a way that is restricting and inflexible we can use the masculine, fiery principle of unconditional love and discipline to contain and “hold space “for the feminine principle (creative, wild, sensual, abundance, pleasure, orgasmic and money-manifesting capacity) to flow within that container. This may mean that on some days our meditation practice of sitting still in one position, for an hour long, may be turned into a moving meditation by free dancing to invigorating music, or by journaling, or by crafting, while maintaining the same, direct line of communion with Source. Whatever will provide the container for the nectar of life to flow: seeing and appreciating the divinity in everything and everybody and in every situation in Ananda (bliss).
On the mat, tapas may mean different things: For some, it may mean making time and committing to be still and observing the mind, and for others it may involve working on strength and practising that arm balance we have been putting off. Making the decision to go to bed a little earlier so you can wake up early to practise is Tapas; not drinking too much or eating unhealthy foods because you want to feel good in your practice is Tapas; and the way you feel after a few rounds of Sun salutations is Tapas.
When walking up a steep, high mountain, all the effort, discipline and sweat is so much worth it when you reach the top and bask in the waters cascading down the summit of the highest cliff....