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The Fire of Tapas

Self- discipline.....I don't know about you, but just the word discipline can send a shiver down my spine. It conjures up images of stern school teachers, getting grounded as a teenager or told off as a child. Yet self-discipline and the growth of a will, are important to us if we are to live an authentic and fulfilling life.

In yogic philosophy self-discipline is known as Tapas and is one of the 5 Niyama or ethical restraints Patanjali identified in the Yoga Sutras, a collection of aphorisms outlining the Eight-fold path of Yoga. Along with self-discipline comes will, determination and courage, because what we are trying to discipline are our own destructive tendencies and habits. The spiritual path is long and windy and sometimes treacherous. It certainly isn't easy, and of someone tells you it is, then they are kidding themselves.

We are spiritual beings in a human body living a human existence, and that means we bring with us a vast range of human foibles. Known as Samskara it is said they formed by our actions (karma) and tendencies (vasana). Over time, as we repeat a certain action with similar expectations and outcomes, they become ingrained into our consciousness and become habits. Now some habits are good. Waking up every morning early to jump onto your yoga mat for practice is a good habit. You've learned to accept that getting up by 6am and practicing sets you up for the day, so unless something goes particularly pear shaped, you continue with this habit. It's like a groove in your neural wiring - I do A + B and get C.

But other habits aren't so productive or positive for our spiritual and personal growth. How about this one - every afternoon you slump your way into the house exhausted from your day at work and immediately pour yourself a glass of wine, because "You deserve it". That glass of wine always becomes at least one more, and before you know it, you're feeling a little tipsy so you just hobble something easy together for dinner and then promptly fall asleep in front of the television. Productive? Inspiring? Good for you? Yeah, na. Yet this is a Samskara also. Once upon a time, you got home from work and had a glass of wine after perhaps a particularly awful day, and somehow over time it's become a habit, almost a ritual, and this is how you now 'treat' yourself for having been at work all day.

So what do we do to break away from these type of destructive behaviours and habits? Well, we summon up our will and determination, our courage and inner power, and we change our habit. It isn't easy of course. It requires - you guessed it - self-discipline. They say it takes 40 days to create a new habit, 40 times for a single action to be done and a new neural pathway to be created. It's why we do 40 day Sadhana in the Yogic tradition- the exact same practice for 40 consecutive days. By practicing Tapas, by stoking the inner fire of resolve and determination, we begin to purify ourselves from old patterns of behaviour. We begin to move forward towards being the best version of ourselves. Sometimes we will slip and fall back for a moment. But if we are truly committed to living our best lives, then we will jump straight back up again and give it another crack.

It takes strength to police ourselves. It takes a helluva lot of determination too, so practices focused on the navel that stoke our internal fire or Agni are wonderful as they help us to develop courage and strengthen our will and resolve. Get your digestive fire working for you by eating foods which digest easily. Practice meditation regularly to help purify the mind, and practice asana with a straight spine to allow energy or Prana to flow easily through the central energy channel, Sushumna. But perhaps even more importantly than any yoga prescription, is to determine how you want your life to look like. What is it you want at the very core of your being? Do you want it badly enough that you are willing to make changes, perhaps even sacrifice old comfortable behaviours you know are no longer serving you? Because if you do, then self-discipline will become easier to acquire. You will want to stoke the fire of Tapas, you will be prepared to be uncomfortable for a while, knowing that the rewards will worth it. Living your life, your way - true to you.

Photo: Little Wave Photography for Inhala Yoga Studio

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