The Third Niyama: Tapas, burning effort...

Saturday, 21 November 2020 18:22
Tapas means burning effort. The word Tapas is derived from the root Sanskrit verb ‘tap’ which means to burn, shine, consume by heat. It requires discipline, effort, determination to achieve a goal.
A burning passion that requires ‘purification, self-discipline and austerity.’ (BKS Iyengar, Light on Yoga, Thorsons, London, 2001 p.18) 
Our yoga practice on the mat requires effort. There is effort required to come to class and practice what we have learnt. Behind this is a drive to improve; to create change. We burn away the obstacles to our practice. This drive doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to push your way through your practice. There is a measured approach that only you can gauge. For some, this may mean taking a few moments to be quiet, still and observing the breath and for others working on strengthening the skills to do a more challenging asana (pose).
Dropping back from Tadasana brings scary to a new level!
The practice and this approach gives us the opportunity to study ourselves and to be honest about what we truly need. Guiding our way toward inner wisdom. Burning away unhelpful habits and negative thought patterns. Cultivating tapas may mean confronting things that may seem scary. And when we practice on the mat we come up against resistance/avoidance to particular asanas and we learn to nudge at the boundary of what is possible. The boundary keeps moving, that’s what makes it so fascinating and stimulating. We find we can reap the rewards in sometimes unexpected ways.
Tapas relates to the element of fire and the Manipura Chakra. This is the energy centre located in the solar plexus, the seat of the digestive fire. This is also the centre of transformation; compelling us to learn, grow, become stronger and be happy. 
The sutra that relates to tapas is Sutra 2.43:
Kāya indriya siddhi aśuddhiksayāt tapasah
BKS Iyengar translates this as: ‘Self-discipline (tapas) burns away impurities and kindles the sparks of divinity’. (Light on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, Thorsons, London, 2002 p.155). This sutra follows the one relating to contentment leading to supreme happiness that we looked at last week. In the commentary on Sutra 2.43 he describes tapas as ‘a sort of unflagging hardness of attitude towards oneself which makes possible compassion and forgiveness towards others.’ 
The descriptions of tapas relate to the self, but how does this relate to an individual’s purpose in the world? How does working on yourself, help your community? 
Let’s look back over the Yamas and Niyamas to find the answers. The Yamas are the ethical disciples relating to living in a community. Just a refresher (and feel free to check out the previous blogs) these are: ahimsa (non-harming), asteya (non-stealing), satya (truthfulness), brahmacharya (chastity) and aparigraha (non-coverting). The Niyamas are the guidelines of conduct that apply to the individual. So far we have looked at sauca (cleanliness) and santosha (contentment). Even though they relate to the individual we saw how they also relate to our community. For example, cleanliness in speech implies kindness and empathy. And when referring to santosha, Feuerstein encourages us to be satisfied with what we have, not just on an individual level but to also involve your cohabitants to also do the same. (See blog on santosha) Similarly with tapas, the concept of self-discipline may have a shaky line towards self-absorption, self-interest, where the ego is central to the development of the individual. However, as with BKS Iyengar’s commentary on the Sutra 2.43:  tapas ‘…makes possible compassion and forgiveness towards others’. And in Light on Yoga he says: ‘It is tapas when one works without any selfish motive of hope of reward.’ (p.18)
By tapas the yogi develops strength in body, mind and character. He/she gains courage and wisdom, integrity, straightforwardness and simplicity.’  (Light on Yoga p.18)
Get on your mat:)
Challenge yourself and step up a level next term. Course bookings now open


Yoga Path
An Iyengar Yoga School
5 Hall St
Newport Vic 3015
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