Tapas: The Third Niyama

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Tapas: The Third Niyama

yoga teacher trainingBy Dr. Paul Jerard, E-RYT 500

Who wants to learn the fundamentals of tapas? How much should we study Yogic philosophy in a Yoga teacher training course?  I hear these questions often, because some interns think traditions and lessons of the past are unimportant.  However, Yoga instructor training is incomplete without learning the roots of Yogic philosophy and methodology.  The Yoga Sutras are a good resource for every Yoga teacher and teaching these lessons helps our students appreciate Yogic philosophy for its contributions to humankind.

Tapas is the third Niyama, described by Maharishi Patanjali, in The Yoga Sutras.  Many times, you may see the description of Tapas as “austerity.”  Unfortunately, most people still do not understand because Tapas cannot be explained in one word or sentence.  Tapas means “heat” and it is a form of penance, which causes realization of self and of God.

Tapas is a spiritual discipline with the objective of self-transformation and spiritual purification.  It may consist of intense prayer, meditation, and asana practice. Tapas may also consist of corporal mortification.  In the West, Opus Dei (a conservative Roman Catholic organization) has received recent publicity for the practice of punishing the body.  Whether you believe in penance, prayer, meditation, or practicing 108 Sun Salutations per day, it does not matter.  The importance of Tapas in everyday life is extraordinary.

Therefore, consider the following example of Tapas in 21st century life.  A wealthy man had worked hard his entire to life (Tapas) to develop a prosperous business and amass a great fortune.  He was charitable in his giving of time, material, and money to help the poor (Karma Yoga).  He had two children, who he loved, and praised.

He wanted to give them everything he did not have as a child, so he sent them to the best private schools and universities, money could buy.  When they returned, they began to sell drugs in their father’s business.  The government “crashed the door down,” confiscated the family fortune, and auctioned off their possessions.  As a result this man is destitute.

Where did this man go wrong? Our children must also learn the value of Tapas. How many times have we heard of family fortunes squandered away at gambling tables or on a drug habit? Why does this happen? Most people cannot truly appreciate what is “given” to them.  Tapas is more than penance. In the military, one earns his or her stripes to attain higher rank. You cannot afford to have a General inherit a position. A command position must be earned, and battle tested, for the safety of all the troops.

Life’s daily challenges are a form of Tapas.  You can easily make a case that Tapas builds character.  With all of our recorded history, parents and society can learn from this.  If you simply give everything away to children, and the poor, you have taught them nothing.  How will they provide for themselves, once they have consumed your donations and gifts? Children, and the poor, must be taught valuable life skills and independence. Otherwise, they are handicapped by “give away” policies – much like animals at a park, waiting for “handouts.”

Many young parents, in the West, feel that “Spare the rod, and spoil the child,” is an old saying, which does not apply to this time period. The original quote came from Proverbs 13:24, which states, “He that spareth his rod hateth his son; but he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes.”

Children, and everyone else, will respect nothing, if they do not have to earn it.  It is easily proven by the lack of appreciation, manners, and respect, we can observe everyday.  Discipline in moderation, will enrich all aspects of society.  Getting back to you and the value of Tapas – The true value of Tapas is the character building qualities of emotional, mental, and spiritual health.  With those three aspects taken care of, we have better physical health. The habit of daily Tapas will carry over in your physical life by eating and exercising conscientiously.

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