Definition: Based on the Sanskrit root word ‘tap’ meaning to heat, to give out warmth, to shine, to burn.
Fire removes impurities and makes even the hardest substances moldable. The moon phases represent the changing nature of life and of spiritual practice; we have to both be aware of our situation and practice accordingly, as well as remain steadfast with our discipline regardless of what is happening around us . It also represents the importance of connecting to nature and keeping our practice in harmony with its cycles.
“A worthy aim makes life illumined, pure and divine. Without such an aim, action and prayer have no value. Life without tapas is like a heart without love.” — B.K.S. Iyengar
2.43 kaya indriya siddhih ashuddhi kshayat tapasah
Through ascesis or training of the senses (tapas), there comes a destruction of mental impurities, and an ensuing mastery or perfection over the body and the mental organs of senses and actions (indriyas). — Patanjali
Tapasya generates the fire of transformation associated with our will-power. A fundamental foundation of all yogic paths, the development of self-control is essential for mastery over your body, mind, emotions, and vital energies.
The paradox of a healthy discipline is that it leads to greater freedom. Many modern studies have shown that indicators for personal achievement are found in those who are able to delay immediate gratification for a long-term reward. Your ability to defer gratification will enhance similar skills such as patience, impulse control, and willpower, all of which are involved in self-regulation and help you adapt to meet the demands of your environment.
Challenging situations in your life can also be received as part of your tapasya – strengthening your resolve, building resilience, and sublimating your ego. Remember that even grief and loss are opportunities for growth if you view them as such.
Once upon a time there was a farmer who turned to God, saying, “Listen, I know you’re God… but one thing I must say to you: You’re not a farmer. You don’t know the ABC’s of farming.” God said, “What’s your advice?” The farmer said, “Why don’t you let me take the reins for a year and see how the crops do. There will be no more hunger in the world!” The agreement was made and the farmer would tell God exactly what kind of weather to produce. Naturally, he asked for only the best – no thunder or excessive winds, not a cold winter, nothing that would strain the crops. Everything was growing so high.
According to his whim, the weather followed: when he wanted sun there was sun, rain there was rain. When harvest season came around, the farmer cracked open the wheat only to find it hollow inside. He exclaimed, “What has gone wrong?! I designed everything perfectly!” God answered him, “There was no struggle, no conflict, no difficulty. Because you avoided all that was bad, the wheat remained impotent. A little struggle, a little sacrifice is needed to awaken and strengthen the soul of the wheat.”
Your tapasya is rooted in your willingness to sacrifice time, pleasure, and temporary gratifications in service to a greater goal. This discipline, whatever form, is what fires the crucible of your transformation – body, mind, and spirit.