Tapas and discipline
The Sanskrit word ‘tapas’ is the one I’m referring to today. Most of the times, it’s translated as ‘discipline’, which for most people, is not a very attractive word. We tend to feel that discipline is something that that binds us and keeps us from going with the flow. However, if you look more closely, you might find that it’s actually discipline that can set you free.
We all need some discipline, in one way or the other. Even brushing your teeth every day is a form of discipline. It helps the mind to become still: if you have the discipline to brush your teeth every day, you don’t have to ask yourself constantly if you want to brush your teeth, if it’s really necessary, if you should do it now or in a few days. You brush your teeth and that’s that. That discipline of brushing your teeth will give you a feeling of stability, grounding. It’s something that’s an unquestionable part of your life.
Discipline will make your practice easier
Same goes for your yoga practice: if you choose the discipline to practise daily, it will get easier to practise – not despite your discipline, but because of your discipline. Your mind will stop making up excuses not to practice. Because of that you can relax more in your practice, it’ll bring you more stability and through that you will experience more freedom.
At the start of every New Year, a lot of resolutions are made – and all of those will require some discipline to make it a healthy habit. It might help to acknowledge the fact that you choose your discipline. It will get a lot easier to stick to a healthy diet (or yoga practice, or another discipline) if you say ‘I choose to eat healthy’ instead of saying ‘Aw… too bad… I can’t have cupcakes anymore’.
There’s a little story explaining how a self-chosen discipline relates to freedom, and it has to do with another way of translating tapas: ‘heat’.
According to Hindu mythology, the god Brahman has a very stable seat he likes to rest on. He sits for days, months, years on end. Now, whenever a yogi(ni) has chosen a discipline and truly devotes her or his time to that discipline, Brahman’s seat gets warmer and warmer. As if a fire is burning underneath it. Eventually, the seat will get too hot to sit on. That’s the moment when Brahman will ask the yogi(ni) why they perform this discipline. Most of those disciplined yogi(ni)s will ask for enlightenment, pure freedom. For the seat to become cooler again, that wish has to be granted. And so you can gain freedom through a steady discipline…