By Myra Lewin
I have studied with many people of great mastery in Ayurveda and Yoga. Yet of all the teachers and healers I have met and all the wisdom I have been introduced to, I have found that the most important part of any educational pursuit is the choices I make with this new information.
It’s easy to attend a training or receive a healing. It’s easy to feel inspiration and enthusiasm from what you’ve learned. The challenging part is what happens when you return home. Will you make the choice to shift your life or keep things the same?
Tapas as a tool for spiritual growth
When you decide to change something in your life, taking that first step can be difficult. You may hear negative self-talk telling you this change is unnecessary or that things weren’t as bad as you thought they were. By integrating your new practice with consistency, the negative voice gets quieter. Old patterns dissolve and the new practice and its impact becomes second nature.
This happens naturally when you practice the concept in Yoga of tapas, or discipline. Tapas is one of the niyamas outlined in the eight limbs of Yoga, and offers important guidance to how a student of Yoga can build a consistent practice.
In Sanskrit, tapas means “to heat or burn up,” referring to the way consistency in practice burns away impurities to make room for truth. But the English translation as discipline conjures the idea of punishment or rigidity. However, discipline in this context actually refers to commitment. It involves discernment about what is and is not beneficial for our long-term growth and well-being and the decision to do what will bring the most positive results. If you are accustomed to self-indulgence, practicing tapas by training your mind and senses might seem like punishment at first, but as you walk through the discomfort of turning away from the compulsions of your lower intellect, you’ll strengthen your access to your higher intellect. This leads to greater reward.
The commitment to keep moving forward even when the mind fights it allows energy to flow. This is how you expand as a human being. Think of it as the passage of a pregnant mother who knows that childbirth will be painful, yet she can see that the joy after her baby arrives will be limitless.
Practicing tapas in everyday life
Living a spiritually-focused life is no accident; it’s the result of dedication to developing a relationship with Self. Tapas is that dedication, and its power deepens over time.
You can practice tapas in all parts of your life – by deciding to practice pranayama daily, eating nourishing foods or recognizing your limitations. As you dedicate yourself to these practices, the impurities and attachments burn off, and it becomes easier to see who you really are and the direction toward sattva.
The goal of self-discipline needs to be about achieving moksha, or mastery in life, or it is just a function of the lower ego. Practicing tapas doesn’t mean pushing yourself harder; it means practicing with consistency. Think of it as a loving act of self-care that allows you to move with the flow of life and not against it.
How tapas can support life changes
The only reason change happens is because you decide to change; it is a decision that comes from within. The best results come when you avoid black-and-white thinking. Rather than declaring a complete shift in every part of your life, start with a few small changes – make them realistic and attainable – and dedicate yourself to them fully. Allow time to adjust and feel the improvements, then move on. Think about it as a staircase – if you were to try to jump to the top stair, you’d fall to the bottom. But if you take one step at a time, you’ll reach the top with ease.
For example, if you practice tapas and turn away from the urge to eat before bed, your agni will improve. You will feel less groggy in the mornings and be more motivated to start to your day. It will be easier to go to sleep earlier, and you can wake up before sunrise to meditate. Through meditation, you become more present for your life, your loved ones and your career. All of these steps can happen gradually as a result of consistently practicing each one.
A spiritual exercise to connect with your energetic self
Tapas is motivation from within. It comes from the eternal part of you that is free from limitation, doubt and attachment. To find this part of you, you must know yourself as spirit. Here’s an easy exercise to build the understanding of who you are beyond your physical body: During meditation, imagine your energetic hand (this is part of your astral or energy body). Take the index finger of your energetic hand and, without moving your physical hand, bring your energetic index finger to touch the center of your forehead. Leave it there for a few moments, allowing it to awaken the light within. Experience that sensation, then bring your energetic hand back to alignment with your physical hand.
Practice this a few times a week until you can become more aware of your energetic self outside of this exercise. With that awareness, it will be easier to tune in to the messages from your higher self about what you need to do – or not do – to bring about consciousness and greater well-being. That knowledge, and what you choose to do with it, is where true healing begins.
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