I just don't want to practice Yoga today.
Yoga is hard. There is no denying it. Going to a yoga class after a hectic day of work is hard.
Getting up in the morning and stepping onto the mat is hard. Pushing yourself when you don’t want to be pushed is hard. This is my honest conversation about Yoga, Practice and Tapas (Discipline)
In spite of this, it is essential to our own personal growth and spiritual development. The effort and discipline we experience and express - both on and off the mat - is what is known as Tapas.
Tapas is a Sanskrit word that is commonly translated to mean ‘austerity’ or ‘discipline’. It comes from the root word ‘tap’ which means ‘to burn’ and is often thought of as the heat that arises through a dedicated practise. It is one of the five Niyama’s which are a set of guidelines or ‘duties’ outlined in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. This particular sutra leads us to practice yoga so that we are directed towards a body that develops the power to endure hardship, so that the mind doesn't so easily get upset by the lack of physical comfort.
The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali Book II: 42
For me, tapas is to exercise discipline solely for the purpose of self-growth; to endure the inherent suffering and difficulties, whilst maintaining focus and dedication without the need for reward. With this definition in mind I started to think about the activities I dedicate myself to solely for self-growth - one of which is yoga; the other, Ballroom and Latin dancing.
During a conversation with my yoga teacher Vicki Shields I reflected upon the similarities between the practice of yoga and dance. One of the similarities is the turbulence experienced during practice. There are some days (or even weeks) I will resist the need to practise; there are times I feel utterly deflated to the extent I start to question why I even bother; there are periods of time where the lows outweigh the highs, and all of this is often accompanied by a conflicted internal dialogue. Although uncomfortable, this is all part of tapas. A vital component of tapas is that we must accept and endure hardships without the need for reward. You must move past the dialogue of the ego as each time we persevere through a hardship, the nectar of practice becomes sweeter. Tapas is often associated with the image of burning gold, as when gold is re-forged in fire it becomes more pure and more valuable. We are the gold and the heat is our dedicated practise. If we want to better ourselves by burning the impurities of both body and mind, we must step on the mat during the times we would rather do anything but.
Paul Dallaghan, in his article ‘Tapas: The First Instrument of Doing Yoga’, notes that a key ingredient of tapas is sincerity. In order to fully dedicate ourselves to our practise we must practise with sincerity and authenticity. You must feel comfortable in the face of adversity and be content with our own ability and progress, because if we constantly seek the things we lack and compare ourselves to others we will cause unnecessary suffering and most likely give up.
Yoga is not a dogmatic practice that forces us to do things we do not want to do; rather it is a sophisticated system that unmasks the preconceived ideas of who we are and divorces ourselves from our ego. Tapas is the force that pushes us in the direction of this positive change and should be approached with enthusiasm and spirit. We should not reprimand ourselves during the times we falter but reflect on the reasons we started to practise yoga, and use our need for transformation as our seed for inspiration and momentum.
 Paul Dallaghan - Tapas: The First Instrument of Doing Yoga.