Just recently a group of students and I completed the Winter Solstice practise of 108 Salutations. The practise of completing 108 Salutations is symbolic of purifying oneself on the darkest day of the year so that we can literally step into lightness.
The practise itself takes a fair amount of disciple & dedication and generate a heat or a fire in one’s body which is what purifies the practitioner. One may purify themselves by choosing to rid themselves of anything that no loner serves them. Habits, addictions, relationships, behaviors or anything that is weighing them down.
The practise is not easy and requires one very important component. The component of Tapas. Tapas is one of the Niyamas or personal observances which is required of any Yogi.
Tapas is often translated to mean Austerity or Discipline. But for many of us the words Austerity & Discipline have harsh connotations. We think of having to give up the things we like or maybe doing things we don’t enjoy. But sometimes Austerity/Discipline/Tapas simply means to go against the grain of habit (of taking the easy route) and creating a new behaviour that serves us better.
Performing Tapas rather than being a burden can actually be an act of self-love. Its when we choose actions that benefit the body, mind and spirit. IT”S NOT ALWAYS EASY & IT’S NOT ALWAYS COMFORTABLE. But sometimes it is for the best. One of the better translations of the word Tapas that I have come across the the definition of Burning Desire or Burning Effort to be one’s best.
Take the story of Shiva dancing in the ring of fire. A symbol/picture we so often see in Yoga texts or studios around the world. Now the ring of fire around Shiva represented Pain, Suffering & Illusion. Shiva was trapped within these (as so many of us are today). But he decided to liberate himself from them. Through his burning desire to better himself Shiva is said to have started dancing within this ring of fire. He continued to dance & dance & dance. It wasn’t always easy of comfortable, but he continued on. Until from his burning effort beads of sweat started to form on his brow. It is said that from these beads of sweat the whole universe was created. Everything we see, everything of beauty and everything we hold dear. Shiva’s dance was the original act of Alchemy, transformation through fire.
Through this story we see that Tapas is something more that Austerity & Discipline, it is creation and transformation. It is a burning desire to be the best we can.
So where does this desire come from? Teachers, friends & family might inspire it. But that inspiration needs to be given wings by our own passion, desire & discipline. We have to look inside ourselves to find the strength it takes to act on it.
What makes us strong? is it …
Tapas is not about rigidity. It is about focusing energy in order to purify ourselves & our practise. We use discipline, burning effort & purposeful engagement that is reflective of our intentions, desires & will, in order to emerge lighter & brighter even on our darkest days.
Sometimes we have to move through pain & suffering to be rid of it. Tapas can light the way.