If you were to type, “what is tapas?” into your favorite search engine, you’ll likely get a bunch of results for a type of Spanish appetizer and local restaurants for it in your area. In yoga, however, tapas is defined as heat or fire and often referred to as a ‘burning zeal’ or ‘fiery enthusiasm.’ This heat has the power to purify us.
Tapas is passion
Tapas is a niyama or our way or relating to ourselves according to Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. In Rolf Gates book, Meditations from the Mat, he describes Tapas as, “… the spirit of inquiry; it is about having the heart of an explorer. It is the willingness to work hard in practice, the desire to know oneself, the will to be honest. But all of these virtues or predicated on a genuine desire for spiritual health. The desire will give us consistency. We will have good days and bad days, days when the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak, and days when the opposite is the case. Years of consistent practice are not built on rigid self discipline; they are built on the desire to know more.”
In the Sanskrit dictionary, tapas is defined as heat, as fire, and also as a verb meaning “to hurt” or “to cause pain.” Within the parameters of yoga, tapas was interpreted by Swami Kripalu as a friction produced by going against the grain. Whenever you do something that you wouldn’t normally do, that’s tapas.
I find this last definition intriguing as it implies a sort of Catholic Lent-like commitment to practice, a sacrifice of sorts that lends itself to getting to know oneself better; to transform.
Melina Meza refers to tapas as, “a catalyst or spark to initiate, as well as maintain, the energy for creativity, new beginnings, physical, emotional, and mental transformations; or alternately, as the electrical juice to overcome habits that are no longer beneficial.” She suggests a way to ignite this fire is to look at what stage of life you’re in (householder, parent, grandparent, et.) and examine behavior patterns that no longer serve you or are even preventing you from growing.
Find your tapas through letting go
Time and time again we come back to the idea of letting go, of sacrificing that which is no longer of use to us (as comfortable as it may seem) as a way to ignite our passion for life, self-discovery and change. It takes passion to find passion., though. So, if you’re not already fired up about finding who you really are, it will be very difficult to create it. And, any sacrifices you make will be that much more difficult. Again I use the word sacrifice as a means to relinquish something that has control over you, preventing you from becoming established in your true nature.
Once you’ve identified the ideas and behaviors that you’re attached to, and willing to relinquish to find your truth, let them go. I find that if you put a tangible ‘thing’ associated with this unwanted presence, it helps to let it go. For example, if you conceptually know that you rely on television to ‘turn your brain off’ try turning off the TV set and observe what arises. Observe anxiety and fidgeting, and be with those feelings. Bring awareness to resistance.
At first, you may even find that you become MORE attached to the thing that you’re looking to part with, so notice that and see if you can part with the emotional attachment too.
Replace your attachment with stillness
If you’re making a change to become less reliant on television so that you can awaken consciously, simply unplugging the TV is just the first step. Try adding five or ten minutes of meditation or sitting in stillness during the time the television might be on normally. Pay attention to what arises here, what were you resisting before, can you sit with it and allow it to dissipate?
Be kind to yourself first and foremost
Make sure that you are kind to yourself in the sacrifice you make, and don’t allow self-judgement (a form of violence) to creep in if you ‘slip’ up. This is a hard road, often made of hot coals, so go easy on yourself but stick with it. Let the passion for change be created out of self-love and stay on that path.
Where there’s smoke there’s fire, so stoke your flames and get ready for change.
– Your Charmed Yogi
Related post: On yoga, really: Who’s your yama