Fasting - tapas, austerity, discipline

Fasting - tapas, austerity, discipline

Tuesday, January 2, 2024

“The end of discipline is the beginning of freedom. Only a disciplined person is a free person. So-called freedom is only a license to act and do as we like". 

B K S Iyengar

In Sanskrit, tapas means austerity or discipline; the root word 'tap' means to burn or heat - burning away impurities physically, mentally and emotionally in order to transform ourselves; a fervour for spiritual transcendence.

Tapas includes methods which allow space to be created so that energy can arise, and fasting is one of these. Abstaining from the sensual pleasures food can bring creates space and time to explore the spirit realms, and strengthen our will by removing the instant gratification that comes with food and drink.

Fasting allows us to burn off excesses and re-set our relationship with food and drink; it offers a more spiritual approach to everything we do. We have the luxury of choosing to experience a little hardship by fasting; countless souls around the world have starvation and thirst thrust upon them.  Some mild austerity in first world countries could eliminate starvation.

“Live simply, so others may simply live.”


When we choose to tolerate some deprivation, observing ourselves without food for a day or several days, we experience cleansing of the mind as well as the body. Each time I fast for a few days I am reminded of just how much time the business of eating takes – shopping, deciding what to eat, cooking, eating, cleaning up after – all really enjoyable but time-consuming.

The self-discipline required to fast gives us the opportunity to observe how we respond to being denied something we want, and to use this time to ground ourselves in the observance of austerity. Joy, patience and strength arise from a conscious decision to move away from the instant gratification of desires to a place where the flame of divine power can reach us.

 “Asana practice offers basic training in tapas, where you are physically and emotionally strengthened; even meditation and mindfulness practice teach us to sit through boredom, mental restlessness, and emotional upheavals.”

Sally Kempton

 “Our essential nature is boundless consciousness.  We are rooted in it when the mind focuses and settles.” 

Yoga Sutras 1.3