When I was a freshman in college, I spent many nights cramming for tests. I have (unsuccessfully) attempted to pull all-nighters before mid-term and final exams. Even as an adult (many years out of college), I have procrastinated getting things done because I “just didn’t feel like” doing them right away. Tapas — which is sanskrit for “self-discipline” — is something none of us excel at 100% of the time. We live in a world where instant gratification is the norm, and we favor rest and relaxation over hard work. It seems that it’s becoming more and more challenging to make self-discipline the normal expectation.
As Christians, God expects to go against the norm. It’s impossible to be a biblical definition of a Christian (more commonly referred to as a disciple in the Bible) and not practice tapas.
“Like a city whose walls are broken through is a person who lacks self-control.”
“Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.”
1 Corinthians 9:24-27
Tapas applies to every part of our lives, but today, I’m going to talk about physical, mental/emotional, and spiritual aspects.
TAPAS AND THE BODY
I hate exercising. I love how I feel after I exercise, but the part that I usually struggle with is actually getting myself started with exercising. I’m sure this sounds very odd, coming from a fitness instructor and a yoga teacher. I guess for me, I love being active but I don’t like to exercise for the sake of burning calories/losing weight/toning up/etc… which is why I teach fitness and yoga classes. I used to be a member of a boutique fitness studio where everyone did 60 minutes of HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training). The workouts varied from day to day, but we always did cardio on the treadmill and the rowing machine combined with various weight training and TRX work. One of the reasons why I joined was for the discipline aspect. I knew that each time I went, I was getting out of my comfort zone and pushing my practice of discipline which was great for my character. The more I practiced tapas in regards to exercise, the more I found myself relating to 1 Corinthians 9:24-27 (second passage above) and enjoying a healthier and stronger body.
TAPAS AND THE MIND/HEART
There’s a reason why I put both mind and heart in one category: When we’re not disciplining our emotions, our minds begin to believe the emotion to be the absolute truth. Since 1994, I have helped lead youth and family ministries in California, Texas and North Carolina. It was such a blessing and a privilege to have the opportunity to impact teenagers in a positive and spiritual way, but one of the constant challenges were helping them to gain a conviction that what they feel at the moment are not necessarily godly nor the reality. I’ve seen many teenagers fall in love with the wrong person and get their hearts broken. One thing I would hear often is, “I was convinced that he/she was the one.” Some of them would learn from this and not just rely on their feelings; unfortunately, some would go on to make the same mistakes which ends up in one heartbreak after another, and each time, destroying their self-esteem and outlook of positive relationships. Adults are not immune to making this same mistake. If it’s not a romantic relationship, it could be friendships, work situations, encounters with strangers, etc. My husband once broke up a loud, verbal altercation at our community gym which started because one guy was trying to use two workout equipment at the “same time” (going back and forth between the two). Another guy quietly confronted him on it, so the guy (the “reserver”) apparently started yelling at him (the “confronter”) and getting really close to his face like he was going to beat the guy up. My husband approached them calmly and gently talked some logic into the situation (“We’re all just trying to work out. We all live in this community. We’re all neighbors. Let’s all back up and cool off.”) Apparently, that’s all it took for them to back up and calm down. Before my husband left, he witnessed apologies being exchanged between the two guys. Our emotions have the power to change our minds about what’s real and what’s not. The good news is that we have even a greater power to determine what our minds believe as the truth. And when we discipline our minds, our heart will follow suit.
“The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?”
TAPAS AND THE SPIRIT
I’ve been a Christian for 26 years, and it is still a challenge to practice self-discipline when it comes to my spiritual life. I’m not talking about having my daily times with God; I pray and read my Bible daily, but what I struggle with is disciplining myself to practice godly characters (fruits of the Spirit) daily.
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.”
I’m pretty good at practicing all of these when it’s easy for me (I’m sure that’s the case for everyone), but when I’m trying to be loving, joyful, peaceful, forgiving, kind, good, faithful, gentle and self-controlled toward people that seem to know how to push my buttons, this list becomes quite the challenge for me to live out.
And I suppose that’s why I need to rely on the Holy Spirit to practice Tapas everyday.
Come back next week as we talk about the 4th Niyama: Svadhyaya (self-study).