Tapas: Discipline and Freedom

Photo by Andre Fonseca

Hello community,

Tapas is one of the aspects of the 8 Limbs of Yoga, which translates to austerities, heat and self-discipline. Tapas can be any discipline we commit to, whether it is doing art, going to bed at a certain time, journaling or taking a daily walk. I am a fairly disciplined person, but also I rebel against it in the name of being free to do what I want when I want. As I committed to a discipline offered to me by my teacher I am seeing how tapas can be a doorway to freedom. I have more energy and time. I feel less overwhelm and depletion, and I am less scattered. There is paradoxically more ease in my life with the addition of more structure.

As I think about starting a discipline, especially as we go into winter I am struck by the many things I have started and not finished. This can lead me down a path of believing I failed. A meditation teacher once shared with me that every time you meditate you put a little money in a piggybank, and that money accumulates each time you do it. It doesn’t come out the bottom on the days you forget or rebel or oversleep. Discipline is not about perfectionism or gritting your teeth to make sure you get something in. It can be done with sweetness and even surrender and ease. When you miss a day, can there be a discipline of forgiveness and trying again the next day? When you don’t get to your commitment can you not give up? I remember quitting smoking almost 20 years ago. I was a terrible quitter at first! I would quit for a week, then smoke again. I believed I failed so I would smoke regularly again until the fire for wanting to be free from cigarettes returned. Then when I inevitably slipped I would berate myself for not being strong enough. Each time I “quit” though I was showing myself that it was possible and each time my discipline and resolve got a little stronger, and on maybe the 110th attempt I finally quit for good. Can your discipline be strong and soft, focused and relaxed, steady and flexible, firm and kind?

What tapas do you want to commit to? What tapas are you all ready doing that is serving you? 

Here are some ideas to stoke your discipline fire I have heard from friends, family and clients who are using these tools to move through the next few months and beyond.

Physical Discipline:

Get outside daily.

Massage your skin with scented oils or lotions. My current favorite blend is lavender and sandalwood.

Do intentional transitions, in particular if you are working from home:

  1. Commute (i.e. walk around the block before and after work).
  2. Change clothes after work.
  3. Burn candles to make transitions from work to personal or vice versa.
  4. Burn sage or other herbs at the beginning or end of your day.
  5. Place a cloth over your computer at the end of the day.
  6. Have designated work hours.
  7. If you have a room you work from close the door at the end of your day.

Learn a dance routine. This summer I learned how to floss!

Take a bath.

Have an orgasm.

Pet an animal.

Hug yourself.

Do one yoga pose each hour. I like to do handstands or child’s pose between sessions depending on my energy.

Get dressed every day.

Eat at the same time.

Go to bed before 10 and wake up at 6.

Take your meds on time.

Energetic Discipline: 

Watch the rhythm of your breath

Watch the leaves as they fall from the trees

Do a breathing practice. Here is one to try.


Chant. Listen or try learning one yourself. Here is one I’m learning right now.

Mental/Emotional Discipline:


Learn a new skill (i.e. a dance routine, photography, meditation, baking, etc.)

Draw or paint your emotions.

Write yourself a love letter. 

Sit in front of a light therapy lamp.

Take a screen fast (I try not to get on screens before 8am and not after 8pm)

Take a media fast.

Spiritual Discipline:

Pray each morning.

Meditate. Start easy with 5 minutes/day if meditation is new.

Go to sleep doing lovingkindness. Here is a guided practice

Write a gratitude list at the end of each day.

Write 3 ways you showed up for yourself, someone else and the world each day.

Read spiritually nourishing books. Some I love are the Shakti Rising, Glorious Alchemy, Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, the Bhagavad Gita, Love and Rage and Radical Dharma.

My dear friend and colleague, Christina Malecka of Screen Time Lifeline, created this incredible Fall/Winter Survival Plan, which can support you to think about the fire of tapas you want to bring with you into winter and beyond.

If you are curious about an Ayurvedic discipline I can’t recommend Kavitha Chinnaiyan’s book, The Heart of Wellness, enough.

Something that has been invaluable to me in maintaining a discipline is community. If you are committing to a practice this fall and winter who can you share it with? Who can you be accountable to? Who might be interested in doing it with you? Also, never underestimate the power of a sticker chart! If you have a discipline you want to share with me let me know. I would love to hear.