Tapas, or tapasya as named above, is not mere physical austerity, self-mortification, voluntary suffering or other such stereotypes; it is enkindling the firs within. In tapas we engage our energies by reducing all unnecessary activities. It is the natural restraint of turning one's energies within, creating a space for stillness to work its inner yoga magic of transformation.
This paragraph I just read in the book Yogic Secrets of the Dark Goddess by Shambavi Chopra got me to thinking a lot.
I know we in yoga, especially in the asana oriented cultures of yoga popular in the west, think of tapas as DOING something. Not doing nothing. And it is doing something, but within that something doing nothing else. Make sense?
No? Okay. Well say as an austerity I'm sitting and chanting a mantra 1008 times (which I do every evening) and while I'm doing that I get restless and look around, think of other things, or start doing something else. Then am I doing tapas by this definition? No, I'm not. Doing tapas within this context would be when the urge comes up to think about something, noticing that, and then going back to focusing on the mantra. Or doing something else, no, don't do it, just stop, sit and chant and allow that heat building up because of the frustration from doing the same thing over and over again just burn through your ego, through your karmas, through your samskaras even maybe.
Tapas can be anything, such as holding one arm in the air and when the urge to bring it down comes you still don't bring it down, that's tapas. But that's also self-mortification, which by the above is not necessary. And I agree, it's not necessary to take an austerity to that extreme.
Our asana practice can be a tapas. So when the urge comes to look at your phone, or take a short break just sitting and taking extra breaths, or thinking about what's for lunch, or just anything piddling around, you notice it and then bring yourself back to the practice, to the drishti if need be. To the posture, or where the tongue is, but not giving into that urge can be tapas. It can also not be, there is a fine line. But the idea being to turn it back inwardly rather than allowing the focus to stay outside is the goal. Then it becomes tapas and creates the burning that can take care of those sammskaras, karmas or even body fat sometimes! lol
I read in this way, no, stay with it, let it burn through you. It may seem crazy but it works for me. I love the learning curve I'm going through right now. That's why I picked up the above mentioned book again even though I've read it a thousand times, I read this whole chapter not just the paragraph I quoted above, and it is now growing fruit, so it was worth it.
Anyhow, time to figure out lunch, so I'll talk to you next time I have something come up that can't not come out...