Energy and Yoga
By Laura Hansen.
The code of yoga is codified in ancient Indian Scriptures called the Varaha Upanishads. The code includes correct actions or practices that lead to enlightenment (Patanjali, 1999). Prior to the practice of Asana, are the practices of the Yamas and Niyamas which serve as an ethical code and foundation for the practice of yoga. There are five personal practices or Niyamas, the third Niyama concerns the wise use of energy.
The third Niyama is called Tapas in Sanskrit which means heat but is often used in yoga to mean asceticism or discipline. Tapas could be said to represent the individual energy expended to reach a higher state of consciousness. Often the yogi or yogini is portrayed as a passive actor surrendering to enlightenment. Tapas is the personal practice of enduring austerity and striving towards greater spirituality.
According to Patanjali (1999) a thorough practice of tapas eventually leads to the development of inner strength and an astounding willpower. A yogi or yogini with a strong tapas practice might be able to walk over hot coals for example or practice other seemingly inhuman feats. The Upanishads and the Bhagavad Gita discuss different levels of austerities, many of which are beyond the capacity of the majority of the population, such as giving up all worldly belongings and subsisting only on begged food.
The modern yogi or yogini does not need to give up all worldly belongings to begin a tapas practice. Initially tapas can be practiced through experiencing hunger and fullness, hot and cold, standing and sitting. For example, if I meditate in a seated position beyond what is comfortable for me that is the beginning of a tapas practice.
As human beings, all of us experience some discomfort. We all know what it means to be hungry, to be thirsty, to be hot, and to be tired. We all know what it is like to strive for things that are difficult to attain and to fall short of our own expectations. We can begin a tapas practice by sitting with our discomfort. For example, we might be hungry and instead of eating right away, be mindful of the discomfort that comes with hunger. By being mindful of the experience of hunger, we might develop a greater capacity for self-control and contentment.
A more advanced tapas practice might include fasting. While most people can endure a short fast without any detrimental effects, those with health conditions should see a physician prior to fasting. A fast might include only fluids, or fluids and fruit. More advanced practitioners might consider avoiding both food and fluids for a short period of time.
Tapas means heat, and heat means energy. Energy expended towards spiritual growth, and not towards the satisfaction of endless desires, leads to higher consciousness. The body has needs that must be met for survival, and then there are the endless desires of the body that take us away from our higher consciousness and exhaust our energy. By learning to live a simpler life, we have more energy to devote to the spiritual quest.
- Patanjali, Edited by Satchidananda, S. (1999). The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, Buckingham, VA: Integral Yoga.
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