TAPAS – THE GIFT OF SIMPLICITY

kāyendriya-siddhir aśuddhi-kṣayāt tapasaḥ 

Through tapas, practice and self-discipline, there is the perfection of the body and senses.

PYS 2.43

 

Many years ago, I took the decision to go on a pilgrimage. The path was very long, all by foot, and I had very few things at my disposal. I remember every morning when I woke up, my mind gave me a thousand reasons to go home: the path was too hard, the dormitory had too many people, the tiredness, and the pressure of all that I had left behind and all that was waiting for me on my return were unbearable. Day after day the simplicity of the journey became my support stick: the beauty of the different colours of dawn, the sweet music of the rain, the silent smiles of the other pilgrims. It wasn’t important to reach any goal, but to savour the precious, simple moments that this journey was offering me, despite all the difficulties.

The third of Patanjali’s Niyamas, the yogi’s behaviours towards himself, is “Tapas”, which translates traditionally as “austerity” or “discipline”. The word tapas is derived from the root Sanskrit verb ‘tap’ which means “to burn” and it appears as the first word of the second chapter of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras tapaḥ-svādhyāyeśvara-praṇidhānāni kriyā-yogaḥ (PYS 2.1), indicating that “we must have a passionate, burning desire to undergo whatever discipline is necessary in order to purify our thoughts, words, and deeds” (Eternity is Happening Now by Sharon Gannon). As yogis we must cook in the fire of our own practice.

Our mind has the tendency to give the term “austerity” a negative connotation. In yoga “austerity” means simplicity, the acceptance of the truth that to be happy we don’t need anything but to know who we truly are. By living a simple life without constantly desiring something external that we think will make us happy, our mind is more present and focused. The more we believe we need certain things to reach a certain goal, the more we will be dependent on them. The simpler we can be the more freedom we will feel. Through simplicity and practice we create heat, needed for purification on a mental and physical level. Simplicity makes the body stronger and the mind calm and concentrated.

Adversities will always exist in life and our mind will find many reasons not to practice. The temptation to become a “good weather practitioner” is just around the corner. But tapas is the ability to sustain ones practice in the face of adversity; it is something revealing, bringing out our capacity. As the Sutra II:43 describes, from the ability of sustaining our practice, great power arises. From a yogic point of view the reason to practice tapas is to remove the veil of impurities to realise our true nature. “Our spiritual practices should transform us in the flames of their difficulty and light a fire within us that burns away selfishness” (Excerpt from Chapter 9, Jivamukti Yoga by Sharon Gannon & David Life).

Both tapas and Manipura chakra are linked to the element of fire (agni), which is the element of “transformation”. We can experience transformation when we embrace challenges taking the conscious decision to allow change to happen: stepping outside of our comfort zone, surrendering to life can be a moment of growth in which we learn more about ourselves. When things are too easy, it is more difficult to learn the life teachings that allow us to become more compassionate, softer and grounded people.

Spiritual and physical practices are tapasic, when we practice consistently over a long period of time. Finding a time every day to be present, it doesn’t matter where, when or for how long, but showing up is crucial. On the yoga mat, tapas means to roll out the mat and practice, may it be asana, pranayama or meditation or even just sitting and journaling. To practice every day, no matter what, is a gracious gift of remembering. As the poet Rumi would say: “Do you pay regular visits to yourself? Start now.”

Eternity is happening now and Jivamukti Book

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jivamukti Yoga: Practices for Liberating Body and Soul                                                     

Eternity is Happening Now – Volume two – Jivamukti Shop EU (jivamuktiyoga.com)

TEACHING TIPS

  • Break down the concept of tapas for your students: What is discipline and how is it graceful? How do you maintain your physical and spiritual practice (also in case of injury/illness)?.
  • Discipline gets more comfortable with repetition (with repetition magic arises):
  • Teach one simple sequence exactly the same in every class through the month (for example magic 10, magic 6 or Jivamukti Surya Namaskar) and encourage students to practice every day as an example of an āsana-based discipline.
  • Encourage students to take Spiritual Warrior class (in studio or on digital) to set up a longer personal āsana-based discipline.
  • Teach (and practice) the Jivamukti three step method of meditation and encourage students to practice meditation daily even if it’s only for a few minutes – if possible first thing in the morning.
  • Suggest reading daily from a spiritual book.
  • Present the practice of the yamas as a practical and mental discipline.
  • Encourage students (and yourself) to start journaling during this month – after meditation would be ideal.
  • Encourage students (and yourself) to observe how the mental conditioning (vrttis) and obstacles (kleshas) get in the way of simplicity in your life. Letting go of the unnecessary will help you create physical and emotional space to focus. Encourage students (and yourself) to examine priorities, commitments, and how you spend your time.
  • Emphasise sequences targeting Manipura Chakra (solar plexus chakra), which governs your sense of confidence, inner strength, willpower, and discipline.

 

ALEXANDRA COLOMBO

 

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