Introspective Yoga: Heating and Tapas

It's becoming sunnier and sunnier here in the Seattle area. I'm so grateful for the beauty of the natural world around me. Blue skies, glistening waterfront, it's been great. The warmth of the sunshine really stokes my fire, which is quite appropriate. 

Today, I come to you to talk about tapas, the yoga concept of enthusiastic commitment/self-discipline. It's about the inner fire.

Rolf Gates says “Tapas is simply an enthusiasm for health. All of us have it; it is in our nature. The genius of yoga is that it encourages us to cultivate this enthusiasm. Rather than cloak our childlike wonder in cynicism, we are encouraged to develop an appetite for life.” 

Tapas is about the inner fire we all have, the will to follow through and do the damn thing with enthusiasm. Maybe it shows up as a sadhana practice like you deciding to meditate everyday, or you deciding to go to the yoga studio twice a week.

Another way it could show up is strong self-discipline, of you giving your full attention and pouring your heart into a project.

Wait, so is this is all about being disciplined and efforting and pushing ourselves?

Well, yes and no.

Yes, there is discipline involved. Yes, there is a sense of using our energy, our inner fire... and sometimes it can be about moving forward and other times it can just be about being.

I think living in such a Puritan American society, it’s really not that hard to think about self-discipline and working really hard or hustling. It’s been trained into me since I was a student. But that kind of self-discipline can feel rigid, uninspired.

The caveat about tapas that differs it from American self-discipline is that it includes a spiritual element. Tapas isn’t about being self-disciplined to achieve your goals. Tapas is about living with that inner fire, for the sake of it. As Rolf Gates puts it "Tapas becomes yoga when it is enacted without attachment to results."

Can you do things willfully and enthusiastically, without the promise of a huge reward? Can you live in the moment vividly, just because you can?

Here's one way I've thought about it.

Do you remember being a kid and going outside to play excitedly? I like to think of tapas as something as pure as the energy of children.

I don’t remember why I was so excited to go outside and play or try something new as a kid, I simply had tapas inside of me.

Now as an adult, it seems everything I do has to be rationalized. My energy is portioned into different parts of the day for different activities I approve of beforehand. Adults appear to have lots of self-discipline, but not as much tapas. Interesting, isn’t it?

So for this week, I encourage you to tap into your inner fire and let it guide you toward something wonderful. Maybe you decide to meditate everyday this week, maybe you decide to say yes and go explore your world.

I leave you with these wonderful questions from Rolf Gates. “When it comes to zeal in practice, begin by getting a sense of your underpinnings. At what level are you motivated? What fosters your zeal? What fosters your apathy? How will you kindle the sparks of divinity in your life?”