THE FLIP SIDE OF TAPAS (Self-discipline, the 3rd of the Niyamas)

By  Vanessa Webb | 

There is so much real freedom, personal power, and confidence that is developed in the practice of Tapas.Generally speaking, most of us have an aversion to self-discipline…in the West in particular. We see this continually demonstrated in coffee shops everywhere as two year olds run directionless, screaming madly, in a flushed-cheek sweat, parents bending down to face level, asking “hey buddy, where do you want to sit?”….at two years of age, being called “buddy” by a parent who wants to show everyone around how fair and friendly they are as they force their toddler to make a family decision on the best place to sit. No wonder we have such an aversion to discipline …we’re afraid to implement it as an appropriate use of guidance, and don’t want to take it on when it feels too big a challenge…hence, we’re set in a habitual pattern of denial around its necessity. Setting this denial as the foundation, we’re losing touch with self-discipline in the West, an increasingly distanced respect for it, to the point we are losing even knowing what it means, and its tremendous benefit to character development.

The practice of Tapas in reality, gives us the gift of choice because we’re not so easily found in a state of overwhelm. It allows us the ability to decipher what we really want from the random grasping of in-the- moment satisfaction. The flip side of self-discipline that most of us don’t venture to consider is that it is beautiful, grace filled, and palpable. I know this because I’ve experienced it. My first awareness of this was during a Hatha yoga class. We were in a plain, four walled room with two windows and a door, located within a simple small hotel, which was situated on the banks of the Ganges in Northern India. The class was being taught by an amazing teacher who requires no show, only practice….and his students are of like-mind. Every day, every inch of this room’s floor is occupied by a student’s yoga mat. The teacher moves through the room using silent guided adjustments (no hands-on), the rest of the student body in the stillness of the current yoga pose. Here the meditation begins. I will always remember that moment with the deepest of respect….that THIS (this moment of unwavering focus) was what all the sweat and tears of Tapas can be about. Discipline within discipline, and it was beautiful!

Self-discipline is perceived in redundant magazine articles suggesting the withdrawal of all food for a thirty day quick diet of nuts and seeds…I mean who wants to do that? And to what benefit or outcome? Perseverance of true Tapas, the daily habit of implementing the little things, makes for a big, strong, beautiful framework to work within….it gives structure to the unknown and the unknowable, which actually means that within the structure of self-discipline we have a lot of freedom. This is because of the skill we acquire from such a practice….it makes us intelligent, meeting appropriate situations with appropriate skills. To know the other side of Tapas, the beautiful aspect of it, we can then sense the nourishment it provides. It’s not a withdrawal or deprivation at all. In fact it’s the opposite. Making Tapas a daily expectation of ourselves means that we have the skill required when life says it’s Go Time…when it hits hard and in a way we didn’t expect. Because we never know when life is going to decide for us, butif we’ve been practicing, then the skill that is required to move through that challenge, or with it, is available to us. We can’t do this if we wait until there is a situation of overwhelm before trying to apply something we’ve never used. So practice when it seems not to matter at all.

This is referring to discipline of whatever, don’t discount anything…whatever it might be for you personally that brings focus, and the refinement of character. Discipline in smaller measure accomplishes greater success over the long haul as it accumulates momentum and power, rather than acting on self-discipline as a castration of self and all good things in life.