Tapas: The Discipline That Sets Us Free


By Leaflin Winecoff

A major part of success in yoga (in life!) is discipline. For some of us the word “discipline” might not have an appealing ring to it—we may have an association from childhood that to be disciplined means to be punished, that it means we have done something wrong. Let’s take a moment to reframe what discipline is, how it can actually help us to find more freedom in our lives, and bring us closer to realization of our heart’s desires.

“Discipline is remembering what you want.” This is a quote from David Campbell, founder of Saks Fifth Avenue. This means remembering what we REALLY want. When we have a big dream, it helps us prioritize our actions. We find it more easy to forego a short-term pleasure in favor of a long-term goal. Knowing what we want is a huge asset in and of itself. If we know what we want, we can take steps on the path to getting that. Any time we are faced with a decision, regardless of how seemingly insignificant, we can ask ourselves which choice supports our goal.

Big goals and dreams may seems daunting, but when we hold our highest intentions in our hearts and minds with every action, large or small, every step of the way, we can be confident that every small step takes us closer to realizing our goal. In fact, when we live with this kind of integrity, we can rest more easily in the present moment without worrying that we may never reach the final goal, because we know we are doing our best at all times. We feel the sweet relief of not being in conflict with our highest selves.

There is a sanskrit word for discipline: “tapas,” which literally translates to heat and refers to the heat built by a steady practice. This obviously can refer to the physical heat built by an asana practice, but more importantly it refers to the heat of awareness and discipline when we truly bring our yoga into our lives off the mat. It is a heat built by the psychological friction of our deepest desires and knowings rubbing against our more momentary temptations and desires. As we all know, what we want in the short term (ice cream? another pair of cute but unnecessary shoes? to cut in line for the restroom, or lash out at someone who disappointed us?) may not mesh with our long-term desires (to have a healthy body, to save money for a trip, to be a kinder and more peaceful presence in our relationships and in the world).

When we mindfully subdue our momentary superficial cravings in favor of our deeper ideals, we feel the heat of the struggle! It’s not easy, and we may feel on some level that we are depriving ourselves or punishing ourselves for not already being “good enough.” However, with consistent focus on what we really want, we uncover deeper layers of what we truly want. The heat built by this friction is purifying rather than simply destructive, and what burns away are layers of delusion. With every choice we make, it gets a little bit easier to see the truth of what we want and how every step brings us a little bit closer to that.

Take a moment to ask yourself what it is you truly want. In every decision that comes up throughout the day, ask yourself if your choice supports your highest goal. Notice how your life transforms!

Our upcoming Yogathon-Swimathon event will be a great opportunity to practice discipline and dedication, and discover the purifying flame of tapas! Twenty-four hours straight of yoga is bound to be a transformative experience for everyone involved. It can take us closer to our personal goals, and simultaneously closer to our group goal of purchasing this building! Click here to learn more!