We hear all the time that “less is more.” It’s so often true. But there are times when we need to apply more effort, more heat, more discipline. This is what the niyama of tapas is all about. (The niyamas are the second of the eight-limbed path of yoga; they refer to internal restraints, or attitudes towards the self). Tapas originally referred to various forms of discipline used to control the body a la the ascetic yogis (who imposed extreme forms of self-discipline in the relinquishment of worldy pleasures – think skinny bald guy living in a cave). This niyama has its place in the modern world as well.
Sometimes in a yoga class a teacher may hold a pose for an uncomfortably long time. The heat builds, the sensation creates discomfort. Applying tapas might mean staying through it, breathing, and just noticing without freaking out (or swearing at the teacher in your head). Or, the quality of self-discipline might mean noticing that you always push and strive for more, and dropping into a child’s pose instead. The beauty of modern yoga is that it’s up to the yogi to work out, through a process of refinement and discernment, how to apply the ancient wisdom to the here and now.
A student shared a beautiful application of this principle this morning. She was in my Tuesday morning class where I emphasized tapas. Wanting to bring her yoga practice into her life off of the mat, she decided to stop eating processed sugar throughout the YR yoga challenge. When sugary sweets present themselves at work, she tells herself she is giving herself a gift by not eating them: the gift of health and of exercising her discipline. It’s this process of thinking about tapas and applying it to our lives that is where the real yoga takes place. Thanks Nancy for the inspiration!