Tapas is more than a cocktail party snack! When we talk about tapas in yoga, we’re referring to a Sanskrit word that describes the internal fire that stokes our yoga practice. This fire powers our ability to burn fuel efficiently, as well as to invigorate the body and mind.
When we focus on tapas, we focus on ridding the body of those things which no longer serve us. It is quite literally a letting go, or a burning up of things we are holding onto. In this way, we find greater lightness.
Fire allows us to pierce through thoughts. Tapas in the mind enables us to get to the why behind our thoughts, and we can begin to properly focus our attention on those thoughts that are serving us best. We are also able to develop a greater sense of mental clarity and rid ourselves of the monkey mind.
Just as a fire burns brightly, so do we when we cultivate this force in our practice. We are able to dwell not in worry and disillusion, but instead in passion and purpose. We can see our reality clearly and act from a place of truth and knowing.
Tapas can also be seen as accountability to ourselves. It asks us to develop self-discipline. When we show up on our mats each and every day, we are reminded that in order to grow we must do the work. We are reminded of the need to stay the course and for consistency. We are also reminded that we must smooth out the intensity of our practice, for we can risk burn out. It is much better to run the marathon versus the sprint. And this brings us back to the need to listen to our bodies. In order to keep the fire stoked and burning brightly, we must kindle it through being in the moment, properly restoring the mind and body through self-care and yin or restorative practices, and adequate rest. We must also ensure that we have the proper inputs in terms of both mind and body nutrition. We can ask ourselves what it is we are taking in and what the quality of those nutrients is. This applies not only to food, but also mental stimulation, information, energy, and people.
Ways to Cultivate Tapas in Yoga
Stay in the pose. Don’t rush but breathe into it. Think about building stamina through slowness.
Move to the edge. Don’t hesitate to challenge the edge of the posture, but once you’re there, pause and surrender. When we play the edge, we don’t experience pain, but we do rest in the bit of discomfort of an intense challenge.
Get out of your head. Tapas asks of us to be clear in our thoughts and to follow the breath.
Focus on the core. The best way to rev the body and build heat is through focus on core work and manipura chakra that governs our power center. Think Navasana, Dhanurasana, and Vasistahasana.
Be consistent! Commit to practicing a certain number of times per week, then stick to it. Tapas asks us to persevere, especially when we can find an excuse why something else is more important than our practice. Remember the reason why you made your commitment to yourself.
Ways to Cultivate Tapas in Life
Cut to the heart of the matter. Remember to focus on those things that are important and go right to the source. No need to dance around what you want out of your day and life.
Let go. Find simplicity in your thoughts, daily routine, and material items! Tapas urges us to wade through all of our life stuff so that we can find those things that serve us best in this moment. That means getting rid of thoughts and things that don’t bring joy or positivity, and that are of no use in this moment. Most of us tend to hold onto the past, but this is an invitation to surrender the past and focus on the now.
Breathe into difficult situations. We must learn to calm the fire, especially when we are feeling rather heated ourselves. The next time you are feeling agitated and you feel your temperature start to rise, take a deep breath and feel your feet. Ask yourself how can you handle the situation in a way that allows you to stand in your truth and practice compassion for all involved.
Write out your dreams, desires, and goals and then stick to them. Commitment is key, and if you truly believe something belongs on your to-do list, then you should feel passionate about why it’s there. Come back to this feeling of why when you need a gentle nudge to stay the course.
Practice discipline and routine. How can you sync your day with the cycle of the sun and moon so that you feel in greater alignment and optimal health? Think about establishing a steady rhythm through your day and then stay disciplined to saying yes to only those to-dos that allow you to keep this rhythm.