Tapas – Our inner fire

Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra 2.43: “kaya indriya siddhih ashuddhi kshayat tapasah” – The inner psychic fire (tapas) destroys all impurities of the heart and mind, and brings about the health, sanity, wholeness or perfection of the physical and vital being (the inner senses). (Translation and interpretation by Swami Venkatesananda)

Tapas fits very well to our seasonal theme of saucha  and spring cleaning. The word Tapas is derived from the root Sanskrit verb ‘tap’ which means ‘to burn’, and evokes a sense of ‘fiery discipline’ or ‘passion’. Tapas can mean cultivating self-discipline and courage in order to burn away ‘impurities’ physically, mentally and emotionally to pave the way to our true greatness.”

It is a highly thought after quality on the spiritual path. One might encounter all kinds of temptations in day to day life, so self-discipline may just give you the balance that you are looking for. A good example is to have the discipline to spring clean and fast to get your body, skin and idc back into balance. Another good example is getting up early, to have some time to yourself before the children wake up or do your yoga practice. This takes discipline but feels so rewarding – maybe not before but afterwards. Discipline pays off and you smile when you harvest the fruits.

As the Sutra 2.43 describes, self-discipline burns away impurities and kindles the spark of divinity. This burning away of the impurities can be thought of the following way: Generally, what motivates us to certain actions are specific mental conditionings, also called the vrttis. So for example, someone who is extremely shy, might have the mental conditioning that he ought to stay in the background and not speak to others, because his or her contributions to a conversation are not seen as important anyways. Now, let’s assume this person gets a job that involves public speaking, shaking hands with new business associates, and making other people feel comfortable by taking the lead in conversations. This will be very difficult for someone, who has believed the storyline in their head, that they cannot do such a thing. Every time this person will now take the actions as required by this new position, they behave contrary to their mental conditioning. This contrast in the action and the vrtti creates friction and friction creates heat. This heat now slowly but surely burns away the mental conditioning and one day this person, who used to be so shy, will get up in front of a big group, tell a joke, make everyone feel comfortable and be able to truly inspire others, without his mind chattering away, that they are not capable of doing such a thing. Through self-discipline that person has freed themselves from the constraint of their own mind.

On the yoga mat, tapas means for us, to pull out that mat every day and do our practice, may it be asanas, pranayama or meditation or even just sitting on it and writing into your journal. It may mean to show up at the studio twice a week, to enjoy healthy food daily or choose healthy thoughts. I have just attended a handstand workshop, and the teacher confirmed that it takes several thousands of hours of practice to jump up and stand still on your hands. It takes discipline to get there.

The book “Outliers” inspired me as it quotes that it take 10,000 hours of practice to be good at anything. It describes how the Beatles were one of the very few groups worldwide, who accepted every gig and performed more than any other group ever did. Sometimes at several locations in one day. That constant and deep discipline to practice truly paid off as we all know.

Swami Satchidananda said that yes tapas is self-discipline, but not self-torture. Which raises the question of why you are practicing yoga at all. The Buddhists talk about right thinking and right action. Right effort is not the same as more effort. You don’t become a better yogi by doing more yoga or harder yoga; you become a better yogi by raising the bar of your intention to encompass something along the lines of enabling you to better serve the greater whole.

What are you inspiring to? How much are you willing to give and to practice to be who you want to be, to do what you want to do, to create what you are dreaming of? Even if it means getting up earlier every day.

If  we give 100% we get 100%, if we give 50% we get 50% – are you willing to give 100% for what you believe in? This is your fire. Your passion. Your willingness to give it all. How big is the fire? Ravaging? Or a small flame.

Be inspired – be the fire!

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