Kick Up Your Yoga Practice with Tapas, the Ancient Art of Discipline

By volunteer Contributor

‘One step forward, two steps back’ is an apt description of the initial years of a yoga practice. The learning curve to work up to a six day practice is steep, having many cycles of enthusiastic days vs falling back into the lethargy of our comfort zone, finding any excuse to avoid practice. But as a yogi for over 5 years, my mat is my friend, companion, and confidant. It is where I have curled up to cry through my sun salutations, silently smiled as I have risen into the warrior pose, and beamed in my headstand as the blood rushed through my veins into my head. 

Your practice is the only friend who can give you the confidence to know that you have done your part, so that your efforts can sink into the subtle fields of your life. When you practice consistently over a period of time, it no longer becomes a practice, but a way of life.  

In the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, ‘Tapas’ is translated as ‘Fiery Discipline’. The more appropriate translation is to willingly accept and endure the opposite values without grumbling about it. It is a conscious endurance of a practice, knowing that the result of the action is beneficial. Tapas can often be misinterpreted as using practice as a penance to oneself, with harshness rather than with self-love and compassion. Within the practice of yoga, or the union of body, mind, and spirit, the types of Tapas are categorized as below. 

Types of tapas

1. Tapas of the Body: Have control over what you do, whether it is on the mat or off the mat. Discipline of the body relates to everything from turning off your electronic devices an hour before you hit the bed, to making sure you don’t hit snooze when your morning alarm goes off so you can start the day with your yoga practice.

2. Tapas of the Speech: Speak consciously and with integrity. If words could kill, our near and dear ones wouldn’t ever forgive the things we say in our most vulnerable and raw times. It is tapas to speak consciously to ourselves and to those around us with the right perception, awareness and sensitivity. 

3. Tapas of the Mind: Maintain an equanimous state of mind immaterial of the people, situations, or things that happen around us. Cultivate the ability to have a sense of gratitude for simply being taken care of and having all that we need: food, shelter and clothing, and everything in abundance. 

Once we know and understand the types of Tapas, it is easier to understand how to work with it for a fruitful and consistent yoga practice.

Tapas practices for yoga

1. Have a disciplined sleep cycle

Maintain a healthy lifestyle of rising with the sun resting as the moon comes up. Proper sleep plays a major role in balancing your mental, physical and emotional state for a strong practice.

2. Eat a healthy diet

Eat what works for you, listening to what your body and mind needs. There are many diets that have a structured list of foods that you should or should not eat, but only you would know what works for your body and mind. Ayurveda is a perfect example of a diet that caters to your individual constitution, nourishing you in exactly the ways that you need. As you step on your mat, the quality of your practice will speak volumes on how to tweak your diet. 

3. Be consistent 

Step on your mat no matter how you feel. Our feelings are constantly changing with the events around us, and to trust that is to be ignorant. Unless you are sick or you have an emergency,  there is no excuse not to step on the mat. Part of the yoga practice is to help an individual self learn and prioritize their wellbeing. 

4. Be aware of your breath throughout the day

This is probably one of the most simple yet profound tasks that will help in your practice. Simply observing your breath throughout the day not only helps in sharpening your awareness, but helps in your practice by being more conscious of your postures.

Your yoga practice is an asset whose worth you can only understand first-hand. Like other assets, it is not tangible and quantifiable in the beginning, but as time passes, and if you are true in your efforts, you will begin to reap countless benefits. Disciplined practice allows you to blossom into who you truly are. 

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