Tapas – Moving Forward Despite Resistance

This week I am writing about Tapas, which is one of the niyamas outlined in Patanjali’s eight-limbed path of yoga. The niyamas make up the second limb, and refer to wise practices we can adopt to support our yoga.

Tapas is often translated as ‘discipline,’ and has the added meaning of ‘heat,’ and ‘intensity,’ referring to the effort it takes to sustain our discipline over time. Our minds will always have a hundred reasons why we should put off our commitments. Tapas is all about stepping forward anyway, moving into alignment with our deeper values and what we say we want. Even when we don’t feel like it; even when it seems we’re not getting anywhere; even when it is uncomfortable because we are at our growth edge, we practice. There is no change without resistance. Resistance will always arise, and we have to see it, name it, and step forward anyway. That is a practice of tapas.

I have found it interesting in my 12 week-course Sacred Daily Essentials (self-care 101), that many who consider taking the course have to deal with initial concerns about time. We all feel so many pulls on our time, and it is hard to imagine that taking a course that requires we take more time for ourselves is even doable. What is interesting to note, though, is that NONE of the folks taking the course ever complain that they don’t have time. In fact, one young mother of two small children, married, with a job, feels MORE SPACIOUS, MORE AWAKE, and MORE RELAXED than ever. My sense is that when we invest ourselves in the right things, our lives actually open up more. It takes commitment to get established in some of those “right things” and tapas is the energy we use to begin and to stick with it.

Tapas can masquerade as the over-efforting, iron-will of the ego, but I have found that once we commit to taking action, tapas flows from a place of relaxed, steadfast connectedness. I think this is what the young mother is finding. False will feels hard and unyielding while essential will has a kind of flexibility and flow. Of course unexpected things come up, and yet we can stay true to our deeper values and commitments. It still takes effort, and when we are up against resistance, it might feel like a lot of effort, but it is the “right” effort—meaning it takes us towards what we really want.

Rumi writes, “let yourself be silently drawn by the stronger pull of what you truly love.” Often our ego is generating so much speed and aggression that we lose touch with what we truly love. Tapas is the energy we put out to practice those things that slow us down so we can remember ourselves again. One of my meditation teachers says that in the west our constant busyness is a form of laziness. We all know how easy it is to stay preoccupied and distracted so that we don’t get to the really important things. It takes energy to get back in alignment with ourselves. We see when we are running a little too fast, caught up in doing too many non-essentials; or having trouble getting off the couch, and we take action on our own behalf to return to our practice. It is important to see the ways our ego habitually takes over as excessive busyness or sleepiness/distraction and that our modern culture reflects this back to us as normal. Seeing the situation more clearly supports us in making a different choice for ourselves. Committing to putting those things which are most important at the center of our lives, allows our lives to take form around them.

Mukunda Stiles’ translation of Patanjali’s sutra on tapas (II, 43) is:

Through the intensity of self-discipline and purification comes the dwindling of all impurites and the perfection of the body and senses.

As always, I welcome your reflections. Leave them in the box below.

Love, Shannon

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