As we move through life, we come to realise that any positive change or transformation we wish to make, requires a certain amount of consistent sustained energy! Without this vital force, we can’t maintain momentum or initiate change. But first, we need a spark to ignite the burning enthusiasm that helps to keep our daily life (and Yoga practice) radiant, vibrant and alive. From a Yogic perspective, this is the art of inviting and cultivating Tapas!
(RE) IGNITING THE FLAME!
“Literally translated as ‘fire’ or ‘heat’, Tapas is the disciplined use of our energy.” At its essence, Tapas is about generating an attitude of ‘burning enthusiasm’, where “the strength of our convictions fuels a momentum that carries us forward.” * When this inspired energy is strong, so too is the process of transformation.
Whether it’s attending a weekly Yoga class that reignites wellbeing; dedication to establishing and exploring your own personal practice; or simply staying present with the breath as you move through your day; each requires the spark of dedication and burning enthusiasm of Tapas! In time and with gentle but sincere attention, Tapas begins to generate it’s own inner heat and positive momentum. Not only ‘on the mat’, but in daily life.
THE SPIRIT OF PRACTICE
The spirit or intention with which we practice, is the key to experiencing the heart of Yoga. From a Yogic perspective, Tapas is one of the five Niyamas. Niyama is the second limb of Yoga as set down by the sage Patanjali in his Yoga Sutras (around the 3rd Century BC). “The Niyamas are [personal] ethical principles that allow us to be at peace with ourselves, our family, our community”, and the world in which we live. These Niyamas express guidelines for living consciously, in ways that awaken the “soulfulness of an individual”. * They are about the choices we make, initiated from a place of clarity and awareness.
CULTIVATING TAPAS ~ ON THE MAT
Hatha Yoga is experiential, intuitive and alive! When we practice mindfully and with a sincere intention, we are embodying the essence of Tapas and re-awakening our connection to the vibrant source of wellbeing.
There’s no doubt, that for Yoga to reveal it’s many life-changing benefits, a specific type of effort is required! However, sometimes Tapas can be misunderstood by modern Western Yogis, who may be drawn to approach their physical practice from a limiting and competitive place of ‘push’ or the need to conquer extreme and difficult postures. This can often fan the destructive flame of ego and bring imbalance into our relationship with Yoga and ourselves.
Instead, when we mindfully invite the spirit of Tapas into our Yoga practice, we cultivate an inner flame which sustains and illuminates! At it’s core:
Tapas is a deep, heartfelt dedication to our practice of Yoga, by cultivating an effort and enthusiasm that is alive, but not weighed down by expectations and results. (This is often hard for the Western mind to grasp!) Paradoxically, when we practice Yoga with a gentle intention, devotion and patience, the fruits of our efforts naturally appear!
TAPAS IN DAILY LIFE ~ BRINGING IT BACK ‘HOME’
As I write this I’m sitting outside in the sunshine, watching my Beloved work with quiet dedication in our garden. This garden is on the fringe – a place of transformation, that connects our home with the surrounding bushland.
As I watch him absorbed in the difficult and challenging task of slowing down the spread of an invasive weed, I’m struck by two things: his devotion to the original forest and its delicate ecology; and his constant burning enthusiasm for this seemingly endless and time consuming task! From a Yogic point of view, this is a powerful, poignant and living example of Tapas.
As well as using his time and energy in a positive way, he’s nourishing his own soul and sense of Self. It’s been 9 years of constant work and dedication that is showing real results. Transformation is happening! Through his constant effort and enthusiasm, he’s giving the bush more freedom and space to regenerate naturally – in it’s own time – allowing young plants to take root, see the light, and thrive!
STRIKING A BALANCE THAT SUSTAINS… BUT DOESN’T BURN OUT!
Even now, I’m exploring the qualities of Tapas within myself as they directly relate to the task at hand. Writing does not come easily to me, yet my burning enthusiasm for sharing the essence of Yoga is the glowing ember that keeps me going!
However, I also have to be aware of the ‘tipping point’ – when the fire of misdirected Tapas begins to burn up my energy, rather than cultivate and sustain it. This is the point when Tapas turns into something else, which is unhelpful – driven instead by ego, push and ‘should’. For me, this can manifest as a sense of contraction in the mind and heart. Rather than my energy generating and flowing naturally, it becomes blocked or ‘stuck’. Without my constant attention and awareness, the inner heat of Tapas has the potential to become the raging destructive fire of expectation, frustration and self-criticism. ‘Such is the deluded ‘monkey mind’! **
When this happens, we can call on the precious teachings and techniques of Yoga to help us stop. Pause. Come back to the breath, and bring our awareness to the re-balancing quality of Ahimsa (the universal truth and Yogic principle of ‘do no harm’). In this way we can actively stop fanning the flames of ego-driven expectation, and come back to the gentle warmth, devotion and sincere inspiration of pure vibrant Tapas!
Jai Maa! ~ Mardi
Are you wanting to dive deeper? I’m passionate about helping dedicated Yogis with an adventurous spirit explore the subtle dimensions of their Practice – and to (re)awaken a deeper connection with their own authentic Sadhana – in ways that are openhearted, spacious, fresh and alive! If you’re curious to know more, I’d love to hear from you! You can get in touch with me here.
Mardi (Yoga Nature) is dedicated to helping people reconnect with the essence of Wellbeing. Through Yoga, we explore ways to embrace the fullness of Life – by bringing health to our Body, an ease to our Breath, clarity to our Mind, and more openness and harmony into our Heart. We begin to Awaken!
(Images: Exploring the inner flame of Bakasana)
* Source: Tapas and Niyama definitions by Donna Farhi
** Thoughts on deeper practices: Harnessing the ‘fire’ to transform ~ For the skilled and dedicated Yogini or Yogi on the journey towards Self, there is a way that this intense heat and all consuming fire can be harnessed and explored as a powerful tool for Self Enquiry into the root causes of the habitual patterns that constrict and bind us (causing suffering). This a powerful technique for Transformation!