|Perhaps the sight of deer skulls after meditation is a bit unsettling for most, but for me, seeing these warms my heart and reminds me of my main man.....|
I will preface our "tapas" talk with a bit of background information. First of all, there are eight limbs to yoga, "asana" (physical postures) only being one of them. They are...
1. Yamas (external code of conduct)
There are 5 Yamas: ahimsa (nonviolence), satya (truthfulness), asteya (nonstealing), brahmacharya (conserving energy, continence), aparigraha (noncoveting)
2. Niyamas (internal code of conduct):
There are 5 Niyamas: saucha (purity), santosa (contentment), tapas (spiritual austerities), svadhyaya (self study), ishvara pranhidana (surrender to god)
3. Asana (postures)
4. Pranayama (breath control)
5. Pratayhara (withdraw of the senses)
6. Dharana (concentration)
7. Dhyana (meditation)
8. Samadhi (enlightenment)
While in India, I actually worked my way through the Yamas and the Niyamas, embodying (and journaling about) each for a full week. It was such a great practice in awareness, and I highly recommend it to all of you as well! The Yamas and the Niyamas are the backbone of how I live my life, with each building upon the one before. Observing and living these in my daily life have shed so much light on so many things...I am so grateful. Anywho, TAPAS:
***************Tapas : 3rd Niyama (austerity, fiery discipline)*****
“Tapas” is one of the most powerful concepts in the Yoga Sutras. The word “tapas” comes from the Sanskrit verb “tap” which means “to burn”. The traditional interpretation of tapas is that it is “fiery discipline”. It is this discipline which burns off the impediments which us from being in the state of yoga. Another way to understand tapas is to think of it as consistency. One of the highest disciplines is that of consistency: getting on the yoga mat every day, sitting on the meditation cushion every day, observing the antics of the mind every day, forgiving your mate or your child yet another time. If tapas is considered in this vein, then it becomes a more subtle practice, a practice that is concerned with the quality of life and relationships, not just with outlasting some difficulty.
When we bring a commitment born of love to our consistent practice of yoga, we are practicing the niyama of tapas. It is with this spirit of abiding in the midst of difficulty which is at the heart of tapas. This is the spirit of tapas: the willingness to follow through with difficult decisions while maintaining compassion for all the effects that those decisions might have for self and others. Tapas is ultimately measured in the consistent willingness to begin practice again and again, over and over again to bring awareness to this very moment. (http://www.judithlasater.com/writings/livingtheniyamas2.html)
Tapas is the joyful willingness to do what is necessary to reach a goal with fiery discipline.
Tapas (austerity) refers to strength of character in resolute pursuit of yoga’s ultimate goal of the union of Self (Atman) and Brahman (God). The word “Tapas” translate as a spiritual purification or fiery discipline that burns away impediments that keep us from achieving our highest potential of Self.
Many have mistakenly practiced Tapas as self-mortification. Fasting, a meager diet, and other forms of extreme asceticism are not in alignment with our first, and most important, yama of ahimsa (non-violence). While the practice of austerities in moderation trains the will and develops body and mind, excessive asceticism and self-mortification has the opposite affect. Tapas is one of the most powerful practices in the Yoga Sutras.
The word “Tapas” comes from the Sanskrit verb “tap” which means “to burn.” The traditional interpretation of Tapas is a “fiery discipline” that is a fiercely focused, constant, intense commitment necessary to burn off the impediments that keep us from being in the true state of yoga (union with the universe).
Practice: Maintain a constant determination to pursue daily practices. Make sacrifices as necessary, but do not hurt self or other in the process. Be enthusiastic about the spiritual path. Be joyfulness with outer discipline as a means of refining a joyful inner discipline. Remember Tapas is a joyful willingness to do what is necessary to reach a goal with fiery discipline, it is not a punishment.
Tapas turns up the heat
Tapas is a practice of balanced austerity, sacrifice, and discipline. Tapas means “heat” or “fire.” Go through the heat and accept it – invite it in. Fire brings transformation while leading into stillness. If you are not in stillness, you are in craving or in aversion. In other words, you are suffering. Transformation happens through the fire with presence and persistency. As the layers of ego melt away, the truth of love shines through.
Tapas (Discipline vs Difficulty)
Unfortunately, many people mistakenly equate discipline in a yoga practice with difficulty. They see another student striving to perfect the most difficult poses and assume she must be more disciplined and therefore more spiritually advanced.
Difficulty does not make a practice transformational.
It is true that good things are sometimes difficult, but not all difficult things are automatically good. In fact, difficulty can create its own impediments. The ego is drawn to battle with difficulty. Even mastering a challenging yoga pose can bring pride and an egoistic attachment to being an “advanced” yoga student. This impedes or slows your progress. A better way to understand Tapas is to think of it as a non-attached consistency in striving toward your goals.
Ultimate practice of Tapas: Love yourself and your life exactly as it IS. Change nothing, but move with more and more presence and consistency. Be vigilant that your thoughts, actions and speech are rooted in love. (http://www.gaiaflowyoga.com/2010/07/31/tapas-3rd-niyama-austerity-fiery-discipline-2/)
I begin Gabrielle Bernsteins "May Cause Miracles" 40 day affirmation and meditation series four weeks ago, and I haven't missed a day since I began - because I took it on as one of my tapas. Also as a tapa, I am doing the Kundalini kriya, "Ego Eradicator" every morning before I read the day's entry. After my morning breathwork, reading and meditation I head inside and begin my ritual: I boil water and almond milk with a cinnamon stick, fresh ginger, cardamom and green tea chai. I sit down, quietly sip and thoroughly enjoy my mornings cup of tea. Are there mornings when I'm fucking exhausted and would rather hit the snooze button? Absolutely. But I am choosing to honor the tapas that I've made, knowing that they are helping me to come into my highest self. One of my favorite parts of my morning tapas is that I have been practicing outside, in the same place, seated on the edge of our property, looking out over the grass and into the trees that my Dad planted around our home. It is this time in the morning that I feel most connected to him, when all is quiet and the world seems to be completely still. Sometimes I feel his presence in the breeze around me as I sit in meditation. Once he even sat with me in meditation. When I open my eyes I see the deer skulls from one of his last hunting ventures sitting outside in the grass, and I know that there must be more to life than this short existence that we are in. Whether he is in heaven, or just floating around on the breeze - his body has passed but his spirit is still here and all around.
I invite you all to take on a tapa for a week. And then add another week. And another. They say that it takes 40 days for true change to set in, for old patterns to be broken, and for new patterns to emerge. So perhaps you set it for fourty days. But be kind to yourself, and don't set yourself up for failure by setting some crazy insane goal. While in India my tapa began as one week of waking up and doing 3 rounds of uddiyana bandha followed by a one minute headstand. The next week I decided to add 3 rounds of U.B. followed by a minute of kapalabti and a 2 minute headstand. The third week it was 3 rounds of U.B., 3 minutes of kapalabati, and 3 minute headstand. So on, and so forth. It was a gradual increase and then at the end of 7 weeks I had powerful lungs, a killer headstand, a proud heart, and a still mind. Best of luck to you all. God Bless.