Tapas translates to “burning desire”, how you wish to interpret this is subjective. However, the underlying principle of this Niyama or Observance is that the goal needs to be there to inspire you to take the journey in the first place and then you must have the “burning desire” to achieve that goal, it will ensure you have a logical path to reach that goal. In my title I have highlighted the topic “Pain” as I believe this is a common subject that most Yoga practitioners have experienced, it is also something those new to Yoga will discuss with their fellow Yoga practitioners and also their friends and family. When beginning to practice Yoga, it is normal to experience pain, there are different degrees of mental or emotional pain and obviously the resistance to an internal or external sensation. For a beginner, because these sensations are different to anything they may have experienced before, often the element of fear will creep in, generally, fear can exaggerate that sensation and it often becomes a bigger issue that it actually is. This is why Tapas is a fundamental part of Yoga, with it comes determination, as B.K.S Iyengar explains, “…we must not run from the pain, but move through it and beyond it. Learn to find comfort even in discomfort.”
It is important to note that there is “right” pain and “wrong” pain and you must learn to distinguish them and share this with your students, particularly for your beginner students. “Right” pain is to challenge ourselves, but not to expect to immediately master the asana, the journey must be gradual, each individual knows what their bodies are capable of. In terms of “wrong” pain, this is when the pain is destructive and counterproductive of what we want to achieve, for example, a beginner student forcing an asana that they have only practiced a few times because they crave the immediate gratification of “achieving” something.
Tapas can be applied to any part of your inner self and it will be reflected through your external self as well. Tapas and discipline go hand-in-hand, through discipline you are able to dissolve negative thoughts/emotions, for instance, purifying yourself through Yoga practice.
To develop more Tapas in your Yoga practice, commit yourself everyday to focus on an asana you find difficult or a pranayama you may not perform often. Encourage your students to do the same.
“Discipline is remembering what you really want.”
“Tapas… is the choice of finding a better way.”
Doug Keller (Yogi)