Before we move on from the niyamas, let’s discuss another one of them, called tapas, also known as self-discipline, or inner fire. Tapas refers to that fiery commitment inside of us that drives us to do the things we know are good for us, the things that we know will take us in the direction we want to go. Whether that means toward a healthier lifestyle, professional development, educational goals, simply a more joyful state of being, spiritual evolution, or whatever you are trying to cultivate in your life, tapas helps us get there. And of course we all know that in order to achieve anything, we have to put forth continued effort over a period of time. As Henry David Thoreau so eloquently put it “As a single footstep will not make a deep path on the earth, so a single thought will not make a pathway in the mind. To make a deep physical path, we walk again and again. To make a deep mental path, we must think over and over the kind of thoughts we wish to dominate our lives”. So of course this refers to physical practices like yoga, but also to our thought patterns and behavioral habits. In order to make progress in any area of our lives, we must find and stoke that inner fire, that self-discipline that helps us remember why we are doing something. For example, why do you practice yoga? Is it because is helps calm your mind? Makes your body feel less stiff or inflexible? Maybe it helps with chronic pain of some kind? It helps you feel empowered, like you know you are doing something good for yourself? Or maybe you just feel that “yoga buzz” after you practice and you feel generally good all over? Tapas is that fiery voice inside of us that reminds us, when we are lapsing into laziness or old bad habits, that we know deep inside we will feel better when we do what we know is good for us. Tapas reminds us why we are doing what we are doing, and what we are working toward.
However, it is important, to stay really in touch with our inner voice, so that we don’t let our tapas turn into self-harm. We must not push too hard, and get into over-exercising, energy depletion, or injury. This is a great example of where one of the niyamas (tapas) and one of the yamas (bramacharya, or right use of energy) really complement each other beautifully. While tapas teaches us to stay committed and disciplined on our path, bramacharya reminds us to listen to our bodies and our spirits to really know what is the right use of our energy. And that pushing harder isn’t always the right answer. So as in my pic, “Discipline does not mean control. Discipline means having the sense to do exactly what is needed” (Sadhguru). On that particular day, my cat felt that what he really needed was a nap, while I was feeling strong for practice! 😉
I think this is important for everyone, but especially important for us cancer survivors. Our bodies and minds are going through extreme stresses and fluctuations as we go through treatment and into recovery, and we must really learn to be in tune with ourselves so we can do exactly what is needed. There will be days when what we need is a nap. And there will be days when we have the energy to push ourselves and challenge our bodies and minds to see where we can go. We will be best able to get in tune with our true selves when we learn to find some stillness, some peace, and some presence. Fortunately yoga, breathing, and meditation all help us here! So keep practicing, find your stillness, tune in to your inner space, and then you will know exactly what you need to do.