II.43 कायेन्द्रियसिद्धिरशुद्धिक्षयात् तपसः

kāyendriya-siddhir aśuddhi-kṣayāt tapasaḥ
kāya-indriya-siddhiḥ aśuddhi-kṣayāt tapasaḥ

“Strength of the body and senses comes from tapas–the removal of impurities.”

Tapas is the discipline of spiritual practice. It is the discipline to repeat, once more, and once more, those actions that clear, clarify, transform. Tapas is the willingness to begin again. It is the acceptance of the slog. It is determination when encountering resistance.

The word tapas comes from the root tap, “to burn,” and like the word kriyā (sacred act, see II.1), it suggests the lighting of the fire that was central to Vedic ritual. This imagery is vivid in the Bhagavad Gītā, verse VI.1:

anāśritaḥ karmaphalaṁ
kāryam karma karoti yaḥ
sa sannyāsī ca yogī ca
na niragnir na cākriyaḥ

The one who does the actions-to-be-done,
without attachment to the fruits,
that one is a yogi and is free–
not the one without a fire and without sacred acts.

The actions-to-be-done vary for each of us, but we must each light a fire.

In this sūtra, Patañjali emphasizes again that spiritual practice works as an act of removal–aśuddhi-kṣayāt (by the removal of impurities, a phrase used to describe the eight limbs of yoga generally, see II.26). Yoga is not about acquisition.

And yet this process of removal, this lighting of the fire, unveils to us, unblocks in us, our natural potentials. Patañjali states that, by means of tapas, the body and the senses are strengthened; they are brought to fulfillment–kāya-indriya-siddhiḥ. In his recent book, One Simple Thing, A New Look at the Science of Yoga, Eddie Stern describes tapas as “a positive stress” (p. 119). Indeed, there is a growing recognition in modern medicine and psychology that the body and the nervous system need to be stressed to stay strong. We must move, be active, face challenges to keep our bodies and minds healthy.

Patañjali will elaborate on the powers (siddhis) in Ch. 3, the Vibhuti Pāda, “chapter of accomplishments,” but he suggests here that the powers of which the body and the senses are capable are not special or magical, though they may seem so at times. They are rather the abilities revealed when the obstacles to learning are cleared. The body, generally, is ready to learn–it is the mind that says no. The senses, often, are under-used.

Vimala Thakar emphasizes that the limbs of yoga educate the body and the senses and free us of “the clutches of conditioning.” Rohit Mehta, who often speaks of the re-education of the senses, describes in his commentary on this sūtra that tapas brings sensitivity. He considers tapas, essentially, to be an austerity of simplicity, a condition in which “all ostentation and sophistication are put aside.”

Pratyāhāra, the turning inward of the senses, the “bending inward”–as B.K.S. Iyengar says–is essential to this aspect of tapas. Doing nothing, being still, observing inwardly, these renew the senses. They heighten the awareness. They also require a kind of fire of attention. There is a not-doing to the doing that is yogic tapas. One might also say that there is a doing to the not-doing.

When I consider my own tapas, I ask myself, Am I willing to learn? Am I willing to have the conditionings that clutch me released (even if they don’t disappear)? Do I make time in the day for spaciousness? In the body? In the mind? Am I willing to listen, to receive? To be sensitive? I am pretty sure I do not free myself. Space does.

In a word, let this thing deal with you, and lead you as it will. Let it be active, and you passive. Watch it if you like, but let it alone. Do not interfere with it, as though you would help, for fear that you should spoil it all. Be the tree; let it be the carpenter. Be the house, and let it be the householder who lives there. Be willing to be blind, and give up all longing to know the why and how, for knowing will be more of a hindrance than a help. It is enough that you should feel moved lovingly by you know not what, and that in this inward urge you have no real thought for anything less than God, and that your desire is steadily and simply turned toward that. —The Cloud of Unknowing, ch. 34


“The third niyama, tapas, sustained practice, corresponds to pratyāhāra, the hinge between the outer and inner aspects of yoga practice. It implies that cognitive awareness is bent inward with a view to self-knowledge (svādhyāya). It directs one toward the core of being and, like the blacksmith’s bellows, it must always continue to heat the heart of the fire of practice, otherwise the alchemical transformation through extreme heat will never take place. The fire will burn merrily, but it will not turn lead into gold.”–B.K.S. Iyengar, Light on Life, p. 263

Tapas is not mortification. No suppression, no repression, no denial–but it is an austerity….Tapas is to educate the body–āsanas, prāṇāyāma, pratyāhāra, etc. You educate the body in speech, in ideas, etc., so that it can set itself free of the clutches of conditionings. You cannot destroy conditionings, but you can release yourself from their hold, their domination, their clutches.” –Vimala Thakar, Glimpses of Raja Yoga, p. 28

“It would be well to regard tapas as simplicity, that condition of the body and mind where all ostentation and sophistication are put aside. In such simplicity there arises a great sensitivity in the functioning of the body and the mind. One is able to respond to the beauty of nature and man.” –Rohit Mehta, Yoga, the Art of Integration, p. 179

• What role has discipline played in your life? What are the disciplines important to your life today?
• Do you consider sensitivity a goal of practice?
• What has brought you transformation–physical, psychological, or spiritual? What “conditionings” do you most need release from? How does practice help with that?
• Is a quality of fire necessary in practice? (How do you kindle that fire? How do you help it burn steady?)


masculine noun in compound



neuter noun in compound

sense organ (from Indra, name of lord of the atmosphere, + ya, suffix that designates belonging)


feminine noun, first case singular

power, ability (from sidh, “to fulfill, to reach, to succeed”)


feminine noun in compound

impurity (from a-, negation, + śudh, “to purify, make clear”)


masculine noun, 5th case singular, “from”

removal, elimination, destruction (from kṣi, “to destroy”)


neuter noun, 5th case singular, “from”

discipline, fire, pain (from tap, “to be hot, blaze, burn”)

Leave a Reply