Greetings Yogis and Yoginis,
Described in the second chapter of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, the Niyamas establish the rules of conduct that apply to individual discipline. Practicing and adhering to these principles creates self purification in the practitioner.
This week in class we will be exploring Tapas, the third Niyama.
Tapas is found in verse II.43 of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras.
Tapas comes from the Sanskrit word tap, which means to cook. The heat of the cooking process purifies and transforms. The word Tapas is also linked to the idea of deprivation. In order to deprive ourselves of something we are habituated to we must resist acting in our habitual patterns. This resistance creates a kind of internal heat that purifies, strengthens, and transforms us.
The practices prescribed by yoga are intentional means of purifying and strengthening our systems. They may be understood to be any discipline designed to reduce physical, emotional, or mental impurities. In this context, Tapas refers to a process of “getting rid” of something that is not desirable in our system.
According to the ancients, without Tapas, there can be no real success in yoga. The various means and methods of Tapas used in yoga practice include asana, pranayama, and dhyana (meditation), as well as other actions – such as dietary restrictions, fasting, refraining from idle gossip, or other forms of selective renunciation – that serve to break our habits. Controlling breath, limiting speech, and restricting diet are said to be the three most important areas for Tapas. And it is to these ends that we are taught to eat less, speak less, and work on our breathing.
When we fast, we purify our bodies; we gain appreciation of the nourishment that we usually take for
granted. We also have the opportunity to recognize how
much we rely on food for our sense of emotional well-being and even as a source
of entertainment. When we avoid idle
gossip, we save energy, and our minds become more focused. When we control our breathing, we interrupt
an automatic process that is going on at every moment. This is a very deep and profound method of
Tapas that is immediately accessible to any practitioner.
There are things that we desire that are harmful for us. These are also things we desire that are beneficial, or at least not harmful. It is easy to understand how it can be useful to give up things we are attracted to that are harmful. On the other hand, Tapas may sometimes involve giving up something we like that is not harmful to us at all. This is a form of selective, disciplined renunciation – in which we give up something that we like. It should be done carefully in order to avoid any harm to the body or the mind. The ancients suggested that this form of selective renunciation will accelerate our progress in personal practice.
The various methods of Tapas are a means to strengthen ourselves so that we are able to break the cycle of habitual and addictive behavior. They challenge us to wake up out of the
momentum of our daily
lives, to pay attention, and to look at life in a new way. Tapas requires that we cut through
distractions and bring our full attention to the present moment. To do this, we must break patterns, and that
requires energy. The means and methods
of personal practice are designed to help us build sufficient energy to break
free of our conditioned responses.
Homework: Explore what your habits are in relation to your yoga practice. Do you always practice the same asanas in the same way? Challenge yourself to break your habits in your asana practice. Next explore how what you learned about yourself from your asana practice and apply it to your life off of the mat. Choose something you like and give it up for a week and choose a behavior you want to let go of and figure out what your Tapas will be that will enable you to free yourself of this habit.
In Iyengar the Yoga Master, edited by Kofi Busia, Kriya Yoga: Transformation Through Practice – A Western Perspective, by Gary Kraftsow.
Rushing Water Yoga
Rushing Water Yoga
Serving Yoga to Camas, Washougal, and
2003 Vancouver Washington