Niyamas – Tapas

Tapas, the third of the five Niyamas. It means discipline which is a highly misunderstood practice. Many belive that discipline means to commit to something and stay with it no matter what. This would be stupidity because every day is different, and what is important today might not be important tomorrow. It might be the right thing to do something today, but any other day it could be the wrong thing to do.

Practicing discipline is about doing the right thing at all times, whatever that might be. It’s about not falling into habits or compulsive behaviour. See, on the spiritual path every habit is bad, because making something a habit essentially means to do something without awareness. When it comes to compulsive behaviour its actions rooted in our personal desires, rather than conscious choices.

To become good at Tapas, we need to train our willpower (read more about willpower here).

Our willpower is like a muscle, and just like any other muscle, some days its capable of more than others. So there is the physical aspect of how strong the muscle actually is, and then there is the mental force that drives the muscle. This mental force is know the why we do the things we do.

We’ve all heard stories of moms who’s been able to do the impossible when their child is in danger. This is not because their muscles suddenly grew, but because their ‘why’ was so strong and clear.


Willpower is the muscle of the mind

In the 8 Limbs of Yoga, the sixth limb is Dharana, which means concentration. Concentration is a vital ability in your yogic practice. In fact, it’s a vital ability in anything you do in life. One of my many teachers- Dandapani, defines concentration like this “Concentration is the ability to keep your awareness at one point for an extended period of time”. He also says that if you water your garden, both flowers and weeds will grow, because water does not differentiate the two. The same way energy does not differentiate between positive and negative. Our awareness is energy, and whatever you want in life, it requires some energy. Your ability to concentrate your energy on something determines how fast and well it will grow.

If the mind had a muscle it would be called willpower. Whenever you try to meditate and your mind drifts off, it is your consciousness that notice and your willpower that draws is back to your point of focus and keeps it there. Concentration is therefor a product of willpower.

Let’s say you watch a movie. The producer of the movie wants to take you on a journey. He takes your awareness to different places that makes you happy, sad, angry, annoyed, compassionate and so on. With great willpower, you don’t need a movie to take you on such journeys. You can use your willpower to get to those same places by yourself.

Just as it takes willpower to do something we don’t want to do, it is the same muscle that brings your awareness away from stressful places to peaceful places. When we’re anxious our minds are drawn to everything that may go wrong, but with willpower we can take back control and calm our minds simply by changing our place of awareness.


Concentration is the ability to keep your energy flowing in one direction for an extended period of time.

Within the 8 Limbs of Yoga we find Dhyana as the sixth limb. Dhyana means concentration, and it’s an essential part of your yoga practice. Without it, you won’t get far. Concentration is a huge challenge for many, and its no wonder when we look at how we live. Instead of practicing concentration, we have become experts in distraction.

When we talk about concentration, we’re really talking about our ability to keep our awareness at a certain point for an extended period of time. We achieve this by using our willpower. When we talk about distraction, it is letting an external force control our awareness. For instance, when you watch a movie, the producer of the movie takes your awareness on a journey. When we concentrate we are conscious, but when we’re distracted we are not.

Most people practice distraction most of the day. We spend our time and energy trying to create a life that will make us feel a certain way. Looking for ways to have our awareness placed at a joyful place. We eat to feel better, we watch movies to feel better, we hang out with friends- and family to feel better, we have sex to feel better and the list goes on. But with this approach the happiness only last until we’re distracted again, and this is why most of our happiness is temporary. With willpower we can get there by ourselves and with concentration we can stay there.

It is really about having a mind that controls you or you being in control of your mind.