Transform Your Discomfort Into Personal Power
Tapas: in the yogic concept, is the key to following through your intentions with self-discipline. Here’s how you can stoke the fires of motivation through your yoga practice
Tapas is the third of Patanjali’s five Niyamas, and is traditionally translated as “discipline” or “austerity”. In the yogic concept, tapas is the action of restraint. In Sanskrit, it means “to burn”, and evokes a sense of fiery discipline (or passion). When applied appropriately, tapas is an intense energy that helps to melt away our conditioned responses to reveal the undiscovered parts of us. It’s about lighting up that internal fire within you and using it as fuel for your willpower.
On or off the map, tapas applies each time we consciously go against the grain of our conditioned thought processes and habitual ways, and engage in new behaviours. More often than not, it’s an uncomfortable process, but its fruits are great. Tapas allows us to fulfil our intentions and dreams.
TAPAS ON THE MAT
When we talk about “self-discipline”, it doesn’t necessarily have to mean pushing ourselves harder in a physical sense. Let’s face it, there are going to be days when just waking up early to meditate before sunrise, or making time to get on the mat for a 10-minute practice in the midst of a packed schedule, is challenging enough!
But tapas is the force that motivates us to get on the mat and practice, whether we feel like it or not. B.K.S. Iyengar wrote in his book Light on Yoga: “The whole science of character-building may be regarded as a practice of tapas.” The power of this seemingly simple concept teaches us that self-discipline is a tool for growth and transformation, because without tapas, no progress can be made. No one else can get on the mat and practice for you. No one else can do the internal work for you. The transformation change you seek isn’t going to happen by magic – you have to make the effort to do it for yourself.
Taken onto the mat, the cultivation of tapas could mean trying poses we tend to avoid because we find them hard, or leaning mindfully into an asana we usually struggle with. Accepting that it takes time to get into a more advanced pose doesn’t have to be discouraging – it’s about having the discipline to keep at your practice until you get there; it’s about not giving up at the first sign of discomfort; it’s about repeating the process and pushing through the resistance that arises when we go against the momentum of our ingrained habits.
When your first attempt at an invert is not a success, harness tapas to try again. It doesn’t matter whether it takes one more attempt – or 100 more attempts, before you build the strength and balance required to succeed. With a fierce love, Tapas is there to encourage you not to back away from hardship, but rather, to use your discomfort as fuel to rise up and try again!
OFF THE MAT
Applied gently, this same persistent process can also help us to shed undesirable patterns in our everyday lives. Unhealthy eating patterns, nullifying self-talk, and negative thought processes – these toxic cycles can be broken with tapas if we take along the self-discipline we learn on the mat, and employ them off the mat.
Our asana practice helps to hone our tapas training or willpower, which is an essential tool in daily life. Holding a difficult asana on your yoga mat can prepare you better for staying with discomfort in everyday situations. That same willpower allows us to have the calmness of mind for self-study and thoughtful behaviour, so that we’re not controlled by things that make us feel uncomfortable.
When we breathe through and overcome challenging situations in a yoga practice, such as a difficult arm balancing pose that the voices in our head said was impossible, we can take these lessons with us and learn to be strong in the face of adversity or challenging life situations.
Because sometimes, we just need to see that if we stay, we’ll be okay. Tapas reminds us to have the courage to block out those inner doubts that say “I’m not good enough”. Using our willpower to get through a challenging situation that we previously assumed was not possible, teaches us that we actually do have the ability to do it. With this perspective, the world becomes a little less scary, and we feel better prepared to take it on, come what may!
Willpower is nothing but willingness to do.
– BKS Iyengar
FINDING YOUR WILLPOWER
Tapas teaches us a concept that changes how we respond to adversity and struggle. So the next time you hit a speed bump in your life, remember that it’s well worth travelling a bumpy road that’ll lead you to your desired destination. After all, it is the lessons we learn from taking on our biggest fears and overcoming the challenges we thought we couldn’t, that have the greatest positive impact on our personal growth. By learning to face – and push through- the discomfort that leads to a place of freedom, we learn how to lean in to the scary places in our lives.