Tapas

TAPAS (“INNER FIRE” or “TO BURN”)

By Leigh Stewart

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Tapas literally means to burn.  Within the yoga practice, it often refers to pranayama with an emphasis on heat.  Both on and off the mat, Tapas is that fire within us that makes us come alive.  For many of us, the practice of yoga has cultivated a fire that can’t be tamed.

Tapas gives way to the uncompromising: those elements in our lives that become salient enough to determine our priorities, boundaries, and thresholds.  The more closely we live in alignment with the elements in our lives that stoke this fire, the more we come alive.  As our connection to our innate purposes becomes clear, we recognize the value of the elements that stoke our fires, and their roots become impenetrable. 

Heat is generated in the space of our third chakra, manipura, or the energetic center of the solar plexus.  Just as a warm body can move more deeply into a stretch, when the third chakra is firing, its heat rises into the fourth chakra, allowing the heart to open.  With an open heart, we become more receptive to people, ideas, and the experiences of the world that surround us. 

An open heart elicits reciprocity between us and those around us.  What is often not considered is that our heart not only opens for others, but also opens inward toward ourselves.  This enables us, with a vulnerable heart, to live within what makes us come alive. 

This perhaps makes the work sound easy, but as we all know, opening our hearts, as the niyamas remind us, is as much about accepting what we cannot change as it is about living in tune with what makes us come alive.

This perhaps makes the work sound easy, but as we all know, opening our hearts, as the niyamas remind us, is as much about accepting what we cannot change as it is about acting upon that which we can transform. 

Incorporate Tapas into your Daily Life

This week, your challenge is to tap into the space of the heart.  As you become honest with yourself, you’ll begin to unfold the layers that may be dormant.  What fires are in need of some flame?  Where can the fires be tamed?

Day One: 

SIT with a warming cup of tisane (herbal tea).  Cinnamon and ginger are heating herbs that increase circulation and movement in the body.  They encourage warmth and opening throughout the body.  Notice the effects on your body as you sit.

Day Two:

REFLECT by making a simple list.  On one side of the paper, write down the aspects of your life that feel within your control.  On the other side, note those areas that feel beyond your control.  On this side, go through your items one at a time.  Connect with your thoughts, actions, and reactions to those things that feel beyond your control.  Where can you accept or shift your beliefs?  How does this change make you feel?

Day Three:

ENACT. Fire is all about movement!  It is action oriented.  From your “beyond control” list, what is one place you can practice acceptance within your life that comes up daily.  Commit to one day of alteration of action.  Notice what happens as you surrender to the flow. 

Day Four:

APPRECIATE yourself for all that you do.  Our culture is one that runs 24-7.  We are constantly on the move and often do not take the time to appreciate where we’ve come from.  Call to mind a fire you’ve been tending.  Perhaps it’s caring for a loved one, working on a project, or even your commitment to your practice.  Take the time to accept how far you’ve come.  Now take away the “achievement.”  Take a moment to appreciate yourself for being.

Day Five:

SURRENDER. Fire can easily overheat us.  It is quelled by water and the presence of moisture.  Spend some time with water.  Perhaps this is a bath, maybe it’s taking time by your favorite stream, or even awareness of your hydration.  Notice your response to water.  Does it refresh you?  Does it direct the fire in a way that breeds greater creativity?  Allow yourself time to surrender. 

Incorporate Tapas into your Yoga Practice

Each Niyama has a pose (asana) and hand gestures or shapes (mudras) associated with it as well as a mantra (sanskrit phrases or prayers).  Try practicing the pose or the mudra while thinking about Tapas or while repeating or chanting the mantra.

Asana

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The asana associated with Tapas is Forearm Plank or Phalakasana forearm variation.  To come into forearm plank, lie flat on your belly.  Tuck your toes under and activate your leg muscles (think of hugging muscle into bone more so than flexing your muscles).  With your toes tucked and legs active, lift your knees off the floor.  Place your forearms on the floor with your palms fanned wide and rooted into the earth.  Ensure your forearms are parallel and your elbows aligned beneath your shoulders.  There should be a right angle between your forearms and upper arms.  (Forearm plank can also be done with the hands in Garuda Mudra – see below.) Lift your pelvis off the floor and activate your abdominal muscles and deep core by drawing your navel to your spine.  The crown of your head should act as an extension of your spine, and your body should form a straight line from the top of your head through your heels.  Stay here for 5-8 breaths or up to 30-60 seconds. Feel the heat start to build and allow that fire to grow.  Stay with your breath and deepen each inhale and exhale – breathing in and out through your nose.  Observe where the mind goes and the stories it creates.  Seek to quiet that noise with the power of the breath. Relish the fire you are making, cultivate your commitment and discipline.  Come out of forearm plank the same way you entered.  Untuck your toes and allow your legs to release into the earth; let your belly and your heart soften into your mat as you let your arms rest alongside your body with palms gently outside your hips.    

Mudra 

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The mudra associated with Tapas is Garuda Mudra, named after the eagle that Vishnu rides.  Turn your hands so your palms face up and place your right open hand over your left open hand. The back of your right hand will rest in the palm of your left hand.  Draw your thumb pads to touch and interlace your thumbs (‘lock’).

Mantra

The mantra associated with Tapas is “Om agnaye namaha.”  As you chant the mantra for Tapas, draw to mind something that you wish to cultivate, let go of, or transform through heat or fire (agni oragnaye).

Next month we’ll cover the fourth Niyama of Svadhyaya or Self Study.

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Amy Greywitt