Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Fire of Transformation - "Tapas"

"Yoga tries to find the balance between what you can change (tapas) and what you cannot (ishvarapranidhana)." - Leslie Kaminoff 
Tapas is thought of as the inner fire of transformation, corresponding with the fire in our gut known as "Agni" which aids in digestion and transforms food into it's two essences: waste and nutrition.  The root, "tap" means "to burn" and typically refers to the deeply unconscious mental stuff that gets in our way of experiencing total love and lack of suffering.

I like to think of it as the great motivator, that fire under the rump that gets you up when you are feeling lethargic, doubtful or despondent. Tapas is like the kick in our existential pants that fuels us to recreate ourselves as something greater, stronger and more empowered. It is that part of us that was stoked the first time we decided to try yoga asana. It is that part of us that burns when we realize that what we have been doing wasn't serving us well and that heat which causes us to search for a better solution.

Long-Exposure of a Bottle Rocket
Tapas is the participation component of our yoga practice. It is the activity of getting onto the mat, of actually doing yoga, of thinking in terms of yoga ("I don't need to react to that driver who just gave me the finger, because that will not improve the love of this situation, and will only fuel my lack of love."), of living the yoga lifestyle.

It works with all of the things in our lives that we choose to contribute to - our choices around food, lovers, family, friends, the work we do, the things we spend our money on, the things we do with our free time, the way we speak to ourselves and others. It affords us a sense of control and contribution as we learn to truly see how little we do have control over in our lives - the people we love and who love us, our karmic debts, our genetic dispositions and some personality traits, time, space and taxes.

It requires the austerity to change a habit, which is the most stubborn behavior to change! Some translations even include "austerity" as a way to describe tapas. It is part of the second limb of Patanjali's Yoga Sutras  which describes practices for relationships with others, known as the Niyamas. 

An Exercise in Cultivating Tapas 

For the next 14 days, wake up each morning and write down or say aloud the first three things that come to mind when you ask yourself: "What am I grateful for today?" Do not miss a day.
If you don't do this rpactice as soon as you wake up, make sure you do it before you go to bed as a way to create a proactive habit. 
Remember that it is the 'doing' that is instigated by this inner heat, not the 'thinking-about-doing'!