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Tapas: Tempering the Fire Within
The Niyama of Discipline is the Essence of Your Journey

Who ever said Yogis didn't have goals? If there were no goals, there would be no need for Tapas, one of the Niyamas of the Eight Limbs of Yoga. In fact, the very existence of the Niyamas implies the existence of goals — Niyamas are disciplines, meant to be practiced to achieve a certain result. And Tapas is pure Discipline itself.

(Article continued below.)

The Yogic idea of discipline is far more complex than might appear on the surface. The word "tapas" itself derives from the Sanskrit tap, which means to burn or to heat, and the Niyama of Tapas implies both purification and discipline. How does all of this tie together? With Tapas you achieve purification through heat, but to subject yourself to the process requires a good amount of discipline. Purification is not always something undertaken willingly as it often involves a certain amount of pain. But the price you pay for your purification now saves you even more pain down the line. Take any form of exercise, for example. Exercising every day is not always fun. You may have to sacrifice an hour of sleep so you can get up earlier to fit it into your daily routine. Sometimes, when you do a hard workout you are quite sore the next day. But if you are disciplined and you make it a regular part of your life, you will be in far better shape than your contemporaries when you are in your 50s, 60s, 70s and beyond, and you will avoid a lot of the aches and pains that couch potatoes may wind up suffering. That's where Tapas has its payoff.

Let's stay on the exercise tangent for a moment, because at its heart, exercise is pure Tapas. Not only does it require discipline, it creates heat and makes you sweat, which is a form of purification. Ashtanga Yoga practitioners especially seem to relate to the Niyama of Tapas, since the practice creates a lot of heat in the body, along with the requisite sweat and resulting purification (in fact, Beryl Bender Birch, whose Power Yoga is an Americanized version of Ashtanga, spends quite a bit of time discussing Tapas in her book Beyond Power Yoga). Another common form of practicing Tapas is fasting, which requires your body to purify itself by burning up its own reserves and getting rid of accumulated toxins. (We probably don't need to mention the amount of discipline fasting requires!) But there are other sides to Tapas beyond the mere physical, just as being human is about more than the body. Tapas applies to every aspect of your being.

When you apply Tapas to your inner world, it affects your outer world profoundly. There are a wide variety of mental disciplines, from prayer, to motivational methods taught by people like Tony Robbins, to a practice known by nearly everyone into the world of body-mind-spirit: meditation. What all of these very different approaches have in common is that they are disciplines meant to banish or dissolve some type of negative thought form (purification) through their practice. The result is often life changing, since what goes on outside of you is always a reflection of what is going on inside your head. Practicing Tapas on a mental level builds awareness and aligns your thoughts with the flow of the universe.

When it comes to spirituality, it's often said that the journey is more important than the goal. But that doesn't mean that the goal is without significance. The goal needs to be there to inspire you to take the journey in the first place. And you have to want that goal with a passion, a fire (heat) that will inspire you to make a disciplined effort to get there. That's Tapas. It doesn't matter what the goal is — finding God, having love in your life or mastering that difficult Asana — without Tapas you won't have the remotest chance of getting there. That's because without Tapas your journey is chaotic, directionless and without structure. Tapas is the very essence of the journey. It adds richness and meaning to the path. In the long run, Tapas makes you stronger and more resilient. The most enlightened Yogi and the most successful entrepreneur have something in common: both are infused with the spirit of Tapas.

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