• Theta Space

Niyama 3: Tapas

Welcome to this series on the Yamas and Niyamas of ashtangayoga of Patanjali. It is a classification by the Sage Patanjali for the practice of classical yoga. Why are we writing about yoga in a sound meditation website? These are the principles that guide our founder, and understanding of the ashtangagayoga (Sansrkit for "eight limbs of yoga") informs how we conduct our sessions.

We hope that you find the explanations and application ideas practical and inspirational.


The Yamas translates into "moral discipline"and "restraint". They govern our outward, perceivable actions much like "Do unto others what you want done unto yourselves". Niyama translates into "observances" and are seen as recommended personality traits and habits that govern our inner world. In yoga, nothing stands alone. Whatever we practice within will eventually radiate outwards, so we can see Niyamas affecting the outside world too. In Patanjali's Yoga Sutras, we are prescribed with five Yamas and five Niyamas.

This is the third out of the series of 10.


Tapas = discipline, austerity

In Sanskrit, tapas translates into fire, like how metalsmiths refine gold in fire to separate impurities and extract the purest form of the metal. It also translates into "discipline" or "austerity". As Pattabhi Jois famously said, "practice and all is coming" - your practice is predicated on your discipline to show up on the mat and invest in your practice, and that is one form of tapas.

Tapas on the mat means practice, but not necessarily pushing yourself beyond what your body is ready to take. It means showing up in spite of the rainy weather tempting us to sleep in for the day, or when we simply do not feel like practising. Tapas can be seen as a sort of inner wisdom - how far do you take your practice today, and when to back off so that you can reap the fullest benefit of your practice. Fire, as an element, is neutral in its power. It can rage and destroy, it can also create and sustain life. A tiny flame can easily become a bushfire burning out of control, if one is not careful.

One of the most beautiful things in my personal experience with ashtanga yoga (the fixed sequence practice created by Pattabhi Jois) is how the practice strokes your inner fire in a way that mellows the temper. An ashtanga teacher friend once told me that the fire from an ashtanga-vinyasa practice is not one that rages, but soothes. That is because there is a structure behind the whole yoga practice - it strokes fire but it also provides a framework and channel for the fire to be used constructively. If you know how to harness fire properly, it refines. If you fuel it with ego, it consumes.

Beyond the asana, discipline off the mat could mainfest in the way you live your own moral discipline and ethics. This is when all the other yamas and niyamas come in. How do you find that discipline to not engage in ahimsa (non-violence) in your speech, such that you are not hurting another person with your words? Each time we choose not to engage in juicy gossip or toxic behaviour, we rev up the inner fire of willpower to burn a little bit of that away. We're more in control, because we practice restraint with full awareness why we chose not to engage in a certain manner.

Being human means having flaws. The practice of tapas can aid us to become a better person but fire is not an easy element to work with. Is there something you can add to your practice today, to fire up your tapas and help you become a better person off the mat?