I hope you are enjoying exploring the yoga-based self-care practices outlined in the niyamas. This blog is about the third niyama, tapas. Tapas is all about commitment and is a challenging practice. If you are new to my 5-Part Niyamas Series: I invite you to start with Part 1 which began with the practice of saucha, purity. In this 5-part series we delve into each of the 5 practices within the niyamas, which is the 2nd Limb of the 8 Limbs of Yoga outlined in the Yoga Sūtra (click here to download a chart on the 8 Limbs). The niyamas are personal practices that teach us to respect ourselves on every level: body, mind and spirit. For each niyama I provide a more detailed explanation of its intent and varying ways to practice it in your daily lives. I hope you will join me on this journey of self-care. Now, onto tapas!
DEFINITION OF TAPAS
Tapas is laser focused on commitment and intensity. I have heard many teachers describe tapas as the “fire in the belly” that motivates us to make positive changes in our lives. It’s this type of discipline that helps us stay committed to our entire yoga practice, all of the 8 Limbs of Yoga.
As yogis, we are constantly challenging our old habits and thought patterns and replacing them with new, healthier ones. This is not always easy. The process of growth can be painful at times and tapas supports us to cultivate the willpower and strength to break through our transformations.
SET YOURSELF UP FOR SUCCESS
I realize that the practice of tapas sounds a bit militant and regimented, but it doesn’t have to be. While change is not always easy, there are a few ways to set ourselves up for success and make it fun along the way:
Identify the motivation behind your goal
One of my favorite authors and motivational speakers, Simon Sinek, famous for his books Start with Why and Find Your Why, is brilliant at helping us understand our motivations and how they can help us stay committed to our continued growth. He teaches us that “The WHY can help set a vision to inspire people. The WHY can guide us to act with purpose, on purpose.” When we remember our WHY for choosing to commit to this practice it can help inspire us to stay on the course.
One of the main reasons I started writing blogs on the 8 Limbs of Yoga, was so I had a reason to learn more about them to stay committed to practicing them. In order for me to write and promote this way of life I need to practice these teachings myself. I need to walk the talk! With that said, these blogs are part of my WHY. They help keep me connected to my practice. While we know the yoga practice is healthy and makes us feel good, we don’t always stay committed for that reason. Often we need something bigger than ourselves to keep us committed. That’s why it can be helpful to have a partner when trying to make changes. Someone to be accountable to other than ourselves. Interestingly, many of us still have the tendency to take care of ourselves last. Always putting others before our needs. When intuitively we know that we can’t truly help others unless we are healthy and happy.
Be kind and patient with yourself (ahimsā)
It is important that we remember to practice ahimsā along with tapas. Ahimsā is the first yama (the 1st limb of the 8 Limbs of Yoga) and is the practice of non-harming (click here if you would like to revisit my blog on ahimsā). So be kind and patient with yourself as you are making positive changes in your life. Don’t beat yourself up if you fall short on your goals. Give yourself permission to take a break now and again. Your intent is to be consistent toward your goal---progress not perfection. If you over extend yourself or don’t allow yourself any rest periods you are at risk of burn out and that can lead to giving up all together. Have an attitude of fun and curiosity about what you want to achieve, be or do. Be light about it and make the process fun. This is something I’ve been working on for a while now. In the past I tended to be very hard on myself if I didn’t meet my goals. For example, if I missed a workout or if I ate too much one day or didn’t get everything completed on my “to do list,” I would mentally punish myself. So much so that I’d be in a bad mood for hours. Clearly, that was not productive at all. Lately, I’ve been much better at this. Instead of wasting my time and energy judging myself if I don’t reach a goal, I acknowledge it and move on to a plan on how I will accomplish my goals the next day. Much more productive!
WAYS TO PRACTICE TAPAS
Identify what you want to change
List 3 habits that you’d like to change. Don’t think too much, just write down what pops into your mind. Then write down WHY you want to change these 3 aspects of your life. I’ll go first. Here are the 3 things that popped into my head just now and my WHY behind them:
- Eat healthier – It's better for my body and I want to lose a few pounds
- Reduce my wine intake – I want to feel energized
- Express my feelings more – I want closer connections to my family and friends
Now, your turn! Grab your journal and write out what you want to change and why.
Pick one and move on
For this practice I suggest picking the one change that seems the easiest to accomplish and stay committed to it for one week. I know that sounds strange, but I just want you to feel successful in accomplishing one of these changes. When you taste success and realize you can do it, you have more confidence to tackle changing something a little more challenging.
Now outline a game plan for how you will make this change. I will start with the goal to eat healthier for one week and here’s my plan:
- I will eliminate candy/desserts and red meat from my diet
- I will eat only complex carbs and increase my vegetable intake
- I will drink 64 ounces of water daily
Pause and breathe when you feel stuck
When you feel that you are losing your commitment take a moment to check in with yourself. Spend about 5 minutes to calm your mind and focus on your breath. As you are breathing allow your feelings to arise and dissolve. Reflect on WHY you wanted to make this change and remember to be kind to yourself (ahmisā) and don’t judge your feelings.
I wish you all the best with your endeavor to commit to making positive changes in your life. Namaste.