The yogic practice of self-discipline is called Tapas and is one of Patanjali’s five niyamas, the personal observances that create the foundation of yoga. Basically, Tapas is doing something you do not want to do or not doing something you want to do and will have a positive effect on one’s life. Tapas should be something simple and small enough to become successful at but should also be difficult and challenging enough to engage the will.
When our will conflicts with the desire of our mind an internal “fire” is created which illuminates and burns up our mental and physical impurities. This inner fire can also be used as a source of spiritual energy; the yogis say the sole practice of Tapas can lead to the release of kundalini and attainment of enlightenment.
The practice of Tapas in the Bhagavad-Gita (17:14) is broken down into three realms: body, speech and mind. In the body, the practice of Tapas involves creating purity, chastity, honesty, non-violence and worship. Using speech involves using kind, truthful and beneficial words. Practicing Tapas in our minds involves using gentleness, silence, compassion and self-restraint.
Tapas is practiced as an act of devotion and must be selfless and ego less. Tapas transforms and purifies us and enables the conscious awareness and control over unconscious impulses and poor behavior. Tapas builds will power and personal strength that helps us become more dedicated to our practice of yoga.
Tapas is a tool for transformation and should be approached with an attitude of passion and zeal rather than of self-denial and chastisement. “Genuine Tapas makes us shine like the sun,” says Georg Feuerstein. “Then we can be a source of warmth and strength for others”.