Tapas is the path of selfless action. It often gets translated as a burning desire to practice. In reality, it is the willpower to step onto our mat each day and look at ourselves. It requires that we see our faults, our characteristics, and our habits. It requires that we overcome obstacles within ourselves.
Instruction in our classes is around how to do an asana, then on developing Svadyaya (self study). We work to refine our efforts, and identifying and overcoming obstacles within ourselves. BKS Iyengar says:
'Practice involves tapas (the purifying fire of action). Tapas is nothing but disciplining the mind through the eight limbs of yoga. This practice is not complete without faith (sraddha) and courage (virya).'
I agree that having a yoga practice requires courage on some days. If you practice regularly, you will come up against obstacles that require the courage to persist and push on.
The nine obstacles to practice are:
- indiscipline of the senses
- erroneous views
- lack of perserverence
Alan Goode comments:
'Through practice, we become present in our acts and reshape the way our mind absorbs experience - instead of interpreting things which happened to us through the filter of our mind (views formed from past experience) we move to experience them without the veil of thought. An example of this is where we have an experience in the past of someone abusing our trust – this often makes us wary of future interaction with others, but in the extreme we become unable to trust anyone; our actions are limited by our beliefs.
In Tapas we experience directly. In doing so we burn off past impressions which limit us, and our ideas of what we are capable of change. Through action (tapas) we can refine our consciousness – change and grow. This is the first tier and cannot be transcended.'
What does Tapas look like in your yoga practice? For me, Tapas means stepping onto my mat each day, whether I feel like practising or not, and just doing each asana, or pose, steadily and consistently. Of course, we can adjust our practice to respond to what is happening in our bodies, but we still have to get on the mat, get quiet, observe, listen and proceed. This is the daily work of Tapas.
In the next blog post, I explore the second great path of Kriya Yoga, which is Svadhaya (self-study).
Until then, keep practising and learning.