The Sanskrit word Tapas means to burn, to be austere, but in Hatha Yoga, it usually means making a concerted effort.
Tapas is most often the doing part of Yoga, putting in that extra bit effort that makes us stronger… But for someone who tends to overdo, Tapas could mean doing less, say, resting in a child's pose for a few breaths during a challenging sequence of postures.
Going against the grain of our conditioning creates friction.
This willingness to override our conditioning – our usual ways of doing things, strengthens our resolve, and we become more aware of our motivations.
The fine line between wants and needs comes into focus.
My good friend and revered teacher Swami Sathasivom recently vowed to perform a Sahasrara Chandi Homam.
Sahasrara means 1008, and the Chandi Homam (an elaborate and ancient fire ceremony) is his signature ritual of devotion.
His plan was to perform 10 per day, for 108 days. His practice took 14 hours per day, for the avowed 108 days straight, a feat that has never been completed by a single person before.
Honored to be there for his 1008th Chandi Homam, I snapped this picture and as he wept tears of joy.
Can you find the Sanskrit Om in the flames of the Puja fire?
When I find myself wavering on a commitment, I think of Swami Sathasivom, his focus, his determination to do what is so important to him. His 14 hours of practice a day, rain or shine for 108 days. If he can do that then I can surely follow through with my little challenge.
Slipping into Yoga-speak, it's the moving from Tamas through Rajas, to dwell in Sattva.
We don't have to practice 14 hours a day to benefit from Yoga, but we do have to put in sincere effort – sustained over time. If we truly want change, we need to go against our grain, to welcome the friction.
Tapas can be as simple as not having that third cookie.
The heat of Tapas forges the new us, the who we'll be on the other side of our practice. Less bound by conditioning we're that closer to freedom, closer to Mukti.
I've left some sanskrit words undefined here, so you can try out my new Yoga Glossary page.
Om Shanti, I'll see you all in class.
p.s. My brand new camera (long story) shot this great video of Swamiji performing his 1008th Chandi Puja: