Changing a habit or pattern of thinking and following the path of spiritual development and self-improvement requires a lot of effort and discipline. And here it is worth remembering one of the basic yoga principles – Tapas. It is the tapas practice that focuses on austerity, self-discipline, persistent meditation, and perseverance. Tapas is realized through a conscious and sustained effort to resist all temptations and to overcome all obstacles that stand between you and your goal.
In this article, I will answer the three most common questions about Tapas:
- What is tapas?
- What are the benefits of practicing it?
- How can we practice it in everyday life?
What Is Tapas?
So what is tapas?
Tapas can be variously translated from Sanskrit into English as heat, spiritual austerities, fiery discipline, and internal fire. It represents zeal and fullness of effort.
Sometimes it is regarded as a purifying action, for it removes impurity. This concept refers primarily to the body and means proper care for it. It is due to asceticism and the elimination of impurity that the perfection of the body and sense organs is achieved.
Patanjali emphasized that only spiritual heat (tapas) can burn off the contamination of the psyche. Daily practiced tapas as a component of Niyama, along with cleanliness and contentment, changes the state of the mind, making it less “polluted”. The practitioner cleanses himself from worldly filth, accumulates merit, and increases the store of spiritual energy.
Sometimes “tapas” is translated as “asceticism”. However, the idea of extreme asceticism is also far from the teachings of Patanjali. After several years of severe asceticism, Buddha Shakyamuni abandoned strict asceticism and began to preach the Middle way (Madhyama Marga) that focuses on moderate self-restraint and high morals. The term “tapas” in Buddhism means “self-discipline”.
Tapas And Yoga
Yoga practice is always about tapas and overcoming inner challenges. It is always about the kindling of inner fire. When we practice yoga, pranayama, and meditation, despite our reluctance and laziness, we cultivate willpower and develop self-discipline.
To follow the spiritual path, you need to continuously train yourself, challenge yourself, and overcome difficulties. A spiritual path is not about staying in harmony while living somewhere in a peaceful and isolated place. Following your spiritual path means finding peace and harmony everywhere you go. And the more challenging you feel to find them the further you move forward along your spiritual journey. The number of challenges you overcome is proportional to your spiritual growth and the level of your self-development. Therefore overcoming such challenges as laziness and apathy in your spiritual practice is essential for gaining willpower and self-discipline.
Where Does Laziness Come From?
When we are captured by worldly desires, when our energy channels are narrowed and clogged, when our mind is controlled by old information, limiting beliefs and outdated stereotypes, our willpower is very much weakened. And when willpower is weak, our actions are guided by apathy and laziness.
When we start overcoming our laziness and apathy by performing spiritual practices our willpower gets trained. As an ordinary muscle is pumped up through daily workout, so daily overcoming of your laziness “builds up” your willpower. By daily practice, our willpower grows stronger. And eventually, you will notice that now you can easily get rid of bad habits such as smoking, eating junk food, etc.
If you practice tapas daily for several years, the results will exceed all your expectations. Along with your willpower, your own body will also obey you. Your entire body and your health will obey your orders.
The Three Kinds Of Tapas
There are three types of tapas:
- Tapas of the body
- Tapas of the speech
- Tapas of the mind
What is tapas of the body?
Tapas of the body (KAYIKA) is the development of the willpower through performing such practices as Brahmacharya, service to Gurus and sages, Ahimsa (or nonviolence), fasting, etc.
What is tapas of the speech?
Tapas of the speech is the development of the willpower by speaking the truth, using words that do not hurt any living being, studying the Scriptures, etc.
A very special form of tapas of the speech is Mauna – the silence. Mauna implies not to talk at all for a certain period of time (one day or a few hours). A superior level in Mauna is mental silence, i.e. keeping the mind totally quiet. Mauna practice helps conserve energy and sharpen the insight.
What is tapas of the mind?
Tapas of the mind (MANASIKA) is the development of the willpower to keep a perfect peace of mind, to practice effortless self-control, to have a lack of negative thoughts, etc.
To maintain the balance of the mind in all cases of life, to be always serene, contented and calm, to be cheerful in adverse conditions, to have courage in the face of danger, to have the presence of reason and abstinence — these are all forms of mental tapas.
From a philosophical point of view, meditation is the highest form of tapas of the mind. Fixing the wandering mind on God is the mastery level of tapas.
4 Ways to Make Tapas Your Everyday Practice
Here are 4 ways to help you develop discipline both in your spiritual practice and in life.
#1: Practice Yoga In the Morning
Set a goal to wake up as early as possible, preferably before sunrise, and perform Surya Namaskar. Do not look at your phone or open social networks right after waking up and before practice.
You see, in the morning, we are full of creative energy. Early morning practice will help you set yourself up for a conscious and productive day that will be spent in a calmer mood.
#2: Create New Eating Habits
They say food addiction is the worst addiction. We all have it in one way or another unless you are breatharian.
When you don’t know how to control your appetite and cravings you can easily turn into a slave of your habit to eat whatever you are craving.
It is always difficult to give up the usual foods that bring pleasure but does not bring health benefits.
Tapas can help you to develop self-discipline in your eating and take your cravings under control. There is something you can try right now. At least for a week, try to exclude from your diet foods that interfere with your practice or may even be harmful to your health. For example, give up sweets for a week. It can be whatever you like the most – alcohol, coffee, dairy, meat, bread, chips, etc. Then try to do the same for a month. And then do it for an entire year. Once you mastered it for a year you can exclude it for life.
#3: Practice Yoga Daily
Promise yourself to practice yoga for at least 10-15 minutes every day for a week, no matter what happens. Over time, this will become a habit, like hygiene in the morning. Discipline will bring development to your yoga practice and better results.
Do the same with your meditation practice. Meditate for at least 10-15 minutes daily. It’s better to perform a daily 10 minutes meditation than not to meditate at all.
Prioritize your spiritual practices and very soon you will see that your life is changing as well as your mindset. All the events in your life are going smoother and you have a clearer understanding of what’s going on in your life and what life requires you to do from the spiritual point of view.
#4: Control Your Thoughts
To develop control of your thoughts is a primary goal for everyone who follows a spiritual path. Our thoughts have the power to create the reality we live in. People who have no control of their thoughts become prisoners of life ‘circumstances’. Therefore everyone should learn how to develop the ability of concentration and thought-control.
During your yoga or meditation classes, you may have thoughts that are usually repeated in everyday life. It is these thoughts that are the obstacle on your spiritual path. Pay attention to them and learn how to control them.
A wonderful practice that may help you to develop concentration and thought-control is a daily mantra chanting. If you find it difficult to concentrate on Sanskrit mantras, try affirmation practice. Say the same positive affirmation 108 times with a complete focus on every word you are pronouncing.
By applying these methods, you can improve your yoga, meditation, mantra or any other spiritual practice, change the patterns of thinking and behavior. Your mind, your attitude to yourself, and the events of your life will change in a positive matter.
The Bottom Line
No matter what we do for developing our discipline we should always remember that the basis of discipline should be love, not punishment. When trying to follow Tapas, pay attention to the benefits it will bring. Talk to your inner child and explain to him/her that, for example, waking up early in the morning will give you more time to do the things you enjoy doing but never can find the time for them. Also, start applying the principles of tapas during your yoga classes. This will improve your practice because the main thing in mastering any practice is consistency. And it also depends on discipline!