We continue our exploration of the Niyamas with the third one, Tapas, which means discipline. The word comes from the root Sanskrit verb “tap” which means “to burn” and can represent a sense of fiery discipline. As with all things translated from ancient texts, there can be multiple interpretations based on whoever is the “interpreter”. As T.K.V. Desikachar tells us, Tapas is a “means by which we keep ourselves healthy and cleanse ourselves inwardly”, for tapas also means “cleanse” in Sanskrit. That seems straight forward, maintain a consistent yoga practice and you will be fit! As with all things Yoga Sutras, there are likely deeper and more obscure meanings!
We can think of tapas burning away old negative habits or patterns. This takes serious self-discipline as well. When we focus tapas specifically in relation to our yoga practice, it can simply remind us to have discipline around a regular practice, even 5-10 minutes a day. One of the many times I read Desikachar’s Heart of Yoga, I recall being drawn to his discussion of agni, or fire, and the fire we all have within. In his discussions on pranayama (yoga breathing disciplines), he talks about our inner agni burning all the internal rubbish. To me this rubbish represents negative things in my life that I create or can control. I think of practicing tapas in a similar context.
For more on the topic of Tapas, follow link below for an essay on tapas by Constance Habash:
Meditating on Discipline - Tapas
“A worthy aim makes life illumined, pure and divine. Without such an aim, action and prayer have no value. Life without tapas is like a heart without love”. – BKS Iyengar
Set your life on fire. Seek those who fan your flames” – Rumi
"Until you have the inner discipline that brings calmness of mind, external facilities and conditions will never bring the joy and happiness you seek. On the other hand, if you possess this inner quality, calmness of mind, a degree of stability within, even if you lack the various external factors that you would normally require to be happy, it will still be possible to live a happy and joyful life." – Dalai Lama
I love the parable about the farmer negotiating a deal with God to create perfect crop growing weather and can relate it to the practice of tapas. It demonstrates that without challenges, hard work and discipline nothing can be created that has depth, quality, or soul.
Our Practice – Navasana-Boat Pose
Although we all know I love boat pose, when I was working on this week’s blog, I was surprised to see I have never featured it. Navasana (boat pose) invokes tapas acknowledging the discipline, heat and sometimes the chagrin, around that pose! I love the pose as I am focused on a strong core to benefit my lower back health. The effort for this pose is focused on the core where the internal agni, or fire is located.
The benefits of boat pose include core strengthening, improved focus, healthy back and it may also aid in digestion.
Navasana or boat pose is certainly a pose that creates heat:
Start seated, knees bent and feet on floor, hands next to hips.
Hold behind the knees lengthening the spine keeping neck in line with spine. Sit bones are rooting down, really feel them.
Start to rock gently back, really engaging core, lifting feet off the mat until shins are parallel to the floor.
Lift through the chest drawing shoulder blades down the back. Keep the core engaged.
Release the hands if that feels comfortable, extending arms out in front with palms facing in. Keeping hands behind the knees is also fine, keep the core turned on and the back long.
Keep balanced on your sitting bones and try to keep back long and strong not dumping into it.
Another variation to try is to straighten legs creating a v shape with your body arms overhead. Alternatively, keeping the knees bent and shins parallel to the floor is also fine.
Nurturing with Food – Fire Cider
Speaking of fire and heat made me think about fire cider. I have talked about it before and believe in its medicinal properties. The beneficial properties of cider vinegar have been touted for decades. Think of fire cider as vinegar amplified! Variations of fire cider are used by many as a simple and effective remedy to relieve sinus congestion, ward off colds and flus, aid digestion, and increase circulation. It can be sipped, taken as a tonic, mixed with other beverages, or used in cooking. My preferred method is a shot glass full every morning followed by water. Others I know mix it with hot water, lemon and honey and make a beverage. I do not like the taste that much, especially in the morning and I find the benefits for me are best on an empty stomach.
Link to my recipe:
There are many recipes out there, but I suggest that you don’t over think it and stick to the basics and adjust to taste and the curative benefits of specific ingredients. I do not measure anything.
See you on the mat