Tapas; feel the burn, Baby

Here's a niyama that I didn't really get to begin with. Translated from Sanskrit it means 'to burn'. Sri Swami Satchidananda translates Patanjali's yoga sutra (2:43) as 'austerities'. Sorry, didn't get it. It wasn't clear enough for me. Rolling on out Deborah Adele's "Yamas and Niyamas; Exploring Yoga's Ethical Practice" again, (have I mentioned I love this book?) and the lights began to switch on for me.


Tapas encourages us to recognise that every single decision, every choice, every experience shapes the person that we are. It asks us to view mental and physical challenges as an opportunity to grow; learning something else about ourselves along the way. Personally, I am not religious but have always been aware of the quote from the bible "Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also” (Matthew 5:39) Turn the other cheek, right? Huh?! I never completely understood this either until I learned about tapas. Now it is clearer.


If presented with a choice that you could go back in time and change any one thing in your past, would you? Even dark times in our lives have led to us being the people we are now. If we are living with regret, feelings of anger or sadness, perhaps we could be kinder or more forgiving to ourselves or others. We can be cross at ourselves that we spilt the milk, it was our fault. It may even have been someone else’s fault. We may blame, they may blame. But the milk still got spilt. We can find a way to accept that, do our best to clean up the mess and move on from it. Next time, we can be more careful about filling the cup too much or may be more careful as we walk around the corner in case someone else is coming along with a cup too full of milk. I’m getting carried away with my own analogy, but I really hope my point is being made. We can learn. We can develop into better human beings just by accepting and dealing with a situation as best we can. If we need help; ask for it. This is one of the things that makes us all so deliciously human and real. We are social animals and we must live  and be together.


Stories of milk aside, this niyama can be translated into the physical yoga practice on the mat. Considering Navasana, or boat pose (personally, I prefer the Sanskrit, but each to their own); the spine is tall, the breast bone is towards the sky, the legs and feet are raised from the floor, the tummy muscles contracted, supporting the spine and holding the balance. But wait, are you holding your breath? With no breath there is no life. Please breathe. Take the dhristi or the point of focus to the toes. Relax the neck and shoulders. Breathe with control and notice how the body feels in this seated balance. Physically, it’s hard work and you may have been able to hold the balance for two or three breaths; that’s great!! Consider that next time, you may be able to hold it for one breath more or you may find you can even straighten your legs. You’ve learned from the previous experience of the asana that a focus can help you hugely.


Sometimes in life, we do have a rough time, and that’s fine, we're supposed to sometimes. Can you find it in yourself to accept and learn from discomfort or stress to build a better you?