Niyama 3, Tapas, Heart Fire

Yoga sutra 2.43: kayendriyasiddhirasuddhiksayattaapasah

Kaya; the body. Indriya: the eleven sense organs, including thought. Siddih: power, perfection. Asuddhi: impurity. Ksayat: by the destruction, elimination. Tapasah: discipline, asceticism, austerity.

By eliminating impurity, a disciplined life brings perfection and mastery to the body and the eleven sense organs. (trans. Bernard Bouanchaud, The Essence of Yoga)

White Starburst (carolyn grady photo)

Tapas, the third yogic niyama, or code for living well, is another means for personal evolution. We don’t embark upon these practices for the sake of austerity or novelty or egoic gratification. T.K.V. Desikachar (The Heart of Yoga) stresses that Tapas must not cause suffering, “everything about tapas must help you move forward.”

Tapas is the inner fire or discipline which keeps the yogin practicing. Lethargy would be its opposite. One of the definitions of the word YOGA is “discipline,” so it’s easy to see how  Tapas is related to daily practice.

What is it that draws me to my mat day after day, year after year? It’s the fire that burns in my heart center, awakening a sense of embodiment that yearns for asana to express itself.

Yoga Scholar, Bernard Bouanchaud, asks us to consider the relationship between contentment, santosha which implies acceptance and Tapas, the fire that burns impurities. I’d ask, how then does Shauca, or purity itself affect or deepen the Tapasic experience?

A tidbit of trivia I learned from Wikipedia: One who undertakes tapas is a Tapasvin.

A primary purpose of yoga is to become aware of, to channel, and to utilize energy. Yoga can be considered a form of Tapas. Certainly it is integral to the yogin’s life. In Yoga Mind Body & Spirit, the popular teacher and New Zealand yogini, Donna Farhi says that, “Far from being a kind of medicinal punishment, tapas allows us to direct our energy toward a fulfilled life of meaning and one that is exciting and pleasurable.”

The other elements of the ashtanga yoga are inter-related practices. Pranayama and Asana help to stoke the fire. Pratyahara assists the Tapasvin in focusing the energy. Brahmacharya, the moderation of one’s vital energy, is a natural extension of Tapas. Its practice helps keep the heart fire bright and pure.

Pink Explosion (carolyn grady photo)

Farhi quotes Buddhist teacher, Pema Chodron,  “What we discipline is any form of potential escape from reality.”

It’s Tapas that helps me put some ooomph into a daily pranayama, so the practice does not become dull and listless. Tapas propels me and holds me on my dietary regiment. I pray for Tapas to light the flame of my teaching, service, and for inspiration for this blog!

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