This is the sixth blog of series. The previous one is at: www.associatedcontent.com/article/5666896/tapasya_as_applied_to_modern_life_part.html
and first one is at: www.associatedcontent.com/article/2868618/tapasya_as_applied_to_modern_life.html
At the outset, let me set the expectation. This blog is more about breadth than depth. Latter blogs will go into depth of specific cases of physical tapasya. However, just for illustration sake, let us delve deeper in one simple form of physical tapasya-say a regular pushup exercise. A self motivated regular pushup exercise done with self hardship in mind, is a good and simple example of tapasya. Following is illustration of cause and effect chain that would occur over a period of time because of this tapasya. The end result would be health body and mind. Let us see how it happens. It may be noted that, in reality, changes happen at micro level and only when integrated over a time, externally visible impact can be seen.
The exercise would challenge the body muscles and supporting circulatory and respiratory systems to cope with the self imposed hardship. As the body copes with those difficulties, many things happen. At pure mechanical level, the elasticity of hand, leg and heart muscles and that of blood vessels improve; the blood reaches closer to outer skin, energizing those cells; the composition of muscle tissues changes to make it stronger. At brain level, part of exercise related muscle-control-instruction-set shifts from front (thinking) area to back (autonomous) one –in computer analogy, it is like replacing a set of interpreted code with compiled native version; and pain threshold improves. The improved muscles will enable it to cope with accidental stretching demands without creating sprains. The activeness of cells close to skin leads to better and healthier skin, thus improving outward appearance. The increase in autonomous part of muscle-control-instruction-set, will free up the thinking area to face more intellectual challenges. Again, using computer analogy, it is like letting local processors take care of display and communication jobs and enabling the central processor focus on user needs. Because lot of micro demands coming from different parts of body are met by autonomous brain, the front brain does not get many interrupts and that leads to feeling of ease and peace. Using a different terminology, one would feel lessening of entropy (remember entropy stands of chaos, disorder and confusion) and increase in enthalpy (stands for available pool of energy). And that, in short, implies healthy body and mind.
Before we go listing various forms of physical tapasya, I would like to add a bit on the role of “awareness of self hardship” in above example. In logical and rational terms, getting into this awareness is equivalent to changing into low gear before driving uphill. The body and mind gets prepared for incoming physical hardship. At the level of emotion and faith, however, it is like saying to almighty, “I take this hardship; you give me healthy body and mind”. The latter one may sound crazy, but that is how the tapasya seems to work in mythology. And finally, it may also be worth adding here that tapasya, need not have only lofty objectives (as a matter of fact, Hindu mythology is full of stories where demons did tapasya so as to fulfill destructive desires). So, tapasya can be used as tool to meet material as well as spiritual objectives.
Following are some examples of physical tapasya, some sounding trivial and some exotic. Please note that the following is not a suggestion or recommendation to perform any of the listed activities. Even if they are performed, they must be done in incremental way and one must judge the body’s response (and/ or discuss with expert on the related health topic) to make sure that there is no long term harm done to body. The activities below are not in any order.
1. Daily looking at early sun for up to, say, few minutes, in incremental way
2. Daily hitting hand, foot or head on a hard surface (like they do in martial arts)
3. Daily/weekly standing still for, say, up to an hour
4. Daily/weekly standing on one leg for, say, up to half an hour
5. Daily/weekly standing on head for, say, up to half an hour, in incremental way
6. Not eating certain food (that one eats, otherwise, on regular basis) for say a month/quarter
7. Skipping certain meal- one day a week or once a day
8. Skipping food as well as water- one day a month or a one day a week
9. Daily walking bare foot on hard/ mildly pinching surface (for increasing duration)
10. Daily holding breath for, say, few minutes in incremental periods
11. Daily taking a tiny bit of mild toxin (say in form of leaves of Neem –Azadirachta Indica)
12. Taking cold icy bath in winter incrementally (warm to cold and then just cold)
13. Daily/weekly exposing (barefoot and in shorts) oneself to macro elements like sun, air, earth and moon, say for one hour.
There are numerous forms of physical tapasya that can be thought of. Lots of them can be related to activities that we do in our daily life but not in controlled, consistent and conscious way (and so they do not qualify as tapasya). Here are examples of two such tapasya:
(1) This tapasya is about tying shoe string without support. I call it “shoe string yoga”. Many of us put on the shoes with strings that we need tie in the morning while going to school or office. If one ties the string without any support on regular basis and in a conscious way, it can be a tiny example of tapasya. The idea is to lift the leg to about 90 degree, bend with little or no curvature in back and most importantly keep the composure and breath normally. Tying the shoe string this way, we would notice that something that is fairly trivial and seems like a matter of annoyance and inconvenience turns into an opportunity to exercise self control.
(2) This one is about taking cold bath in the morning. This is my favorite one. It does not take any extra time than what we would spend anyway. Initially take warm shower followed by less warm/cold one. Slowly, take just cold shower. The awareness of hardship is important. Once we have changed the gears with this awareness, the body gets prepared for cold bath. As an extra help, one can remember one’s God. On the benefit side, one gets self control, feeling of freshness (even exhilaration) and of course saving of energy!
Before I close this blog, it may be appropriate to give an example of a tapsavi doing one of the physical tapasya listed above. In the temple town of Ayodhya, India, one saint, known as “Khadeshwari Baba”, the term meaning standing saint with godhood, had been standing for over 10 years when I saw him in 1980 (as a side note, that time I was in my undergraduate program and was living in Ayodhya -in a temple). With that, I conclude this blog session. Next we will turn to forms of tapasya at emotional level.