This is part 8 of a 10 part series that I'll be posting. Each post will be discussing one of the yamas or niyamas, which form the foundation of a yoga practice. To provide a little background: the path of yoga was described about 2000 years ago by Patanjali, in the Yoga Sutras- one of the most important texts on yoga. Here, Patanjali laid out the 8 limbed path of yoga. This means that there are 8 stages of yoga, starting with the simplest and moving to the most advanced. The 8th limb is Samadhi, which is enlightenment, aka when you become One with the universe. We can't just skip to limb number 8, however. We've gotta start with the basics. These days, we tend to jump right in at the third limb of yoga: asana (aka. the physical postures). Maybe we'll also dabble in the 4th limb, pranayama (conscious breathing, and control/ manipulation of breath). Unfortunately, we tend to skip right over the first two limbs: the Yamas, and the Niyamas. The Yamas are the 5 restraints; the things we should avoid, in order to be good yogis, and decent human beings. The Niyamas are the 5 observances; the qualities we should cultivate, in terms of how we treat ourselves. Each of the Yamas and Niyamas has important lessons to teach us, both on and off the mat. Here are my thoughts on each one.
Although all of the yamas and niyamas are crucial to the practice of yoga, on and off the mat (as I hope I've shown in my previous posts), I think it's absolutely impossible to make yoga a part of your life without embracing tapas. This is because this niyama is the one that reminds us that if we want something, we need to be dedicated, committed, and to work hard.
I am sure we are all aware of the difference between wanting something, and actively taking steps to make that desired outcome a reality. This difference is tapas. It's very easy to come up with a list of dreams, desires, and wishes for what we want our lives to look like. Whether we want a fulfilling career, a rewarding relationship, a healthy body, or good grades in school, simply wishing for these desires to manifest into reality is not really a realistic game plan. We need to put in the effort.
Let me explain through my own personal story. As I mention in my bio, when I began the practice of yoga, I was anything but a natural. Unlike many yogis and yoga teachers, I've never been a dancer, a gymnast, or an athlete of any sort. What I was is a very uncoordinated, awkward, unfit and overweight science nerd who for whatever reason, really felt compelled to try yoga. So I eventually mustered up my courage and gave it a go. The poses were impossible for me. Every muscle ached, every breath was an effort, and I constantly had to battle the voice in my head that told me I would never be able to do the poses (which, at the time, I thought was the whole point of yoga), and I was terrified of being judged by my teacher and peers. Just walking through the doors of the yoga studio was a huge challenge for me. But I stuck with it. I stayed committed. Slowly, I saw changes in my practice, and my physical body; eventually these changes permeated my whole life. To this day, however, I am not a natural at the physical practice. I have to work my butt off for every single second I stay in an arm balance, every breath I take upside-down. I choose to practice for hours every single day, because it is the life that I want for myself, and it's the best life I can imagine. Sometimes just getting out of my hammock and onto my mat is tricky... but it's tapas that gets me through. Because above all else, I am devoted to this practice. My dedication to the path of yoga is absolutely the only reason why my practice is what it is now, and even why I have a life I love so much.
There is a lot of talk in the yoga world about "manifesting our dreams". Yogis and hippies and other new-age relics (**as an aside: I include myself in all 3 of these categories, FYI) are always talking about "setting intentions" and "manifesting" the things we want. Basically "manifesting dreams" or whatever means to imagine yourself having what you want/ being who you want to be, etc.. It means to focus on the desired outcome rather than the obstacles along the path. I think this is great and I'm definitely all for it. Positive visualizations have done me a lot of good, and every time I do something scary I imagine it working out really well, and it usually does. However, I want to make it clear that I absolutely think that faith in the universe is under no circumstances a substitute for working your ass off!
Want a great relationship with a guy who treats you like a goddess? You might have to dump the loser with you're currently with. Are you bored of your dead-end job and want a fulfilling career you love? You might have to quit that job, go back to school, and spend years studying. Sick of being unhealthy? You have the power to change that situation for yourself, but it will not be easy. Tapas, friends... let's say it together: TAPAS! Be dedicated to what you want, work hard, and you will reap the benefits.
We need to be dedicated because there are often (always?) obstacles along our paths, wherever our individual paths may be leading. So, we need to build up that fire in our bellies to burn through those obstacles, over and over and over again. We need to show the universe, and ourselves, that we truly want to help ourselves to make our wildest dreams come true. Then.... they will.