January Focus: Tapas, Playing with Fire

TAPAS: Playing with Fire

by Sonya Kuropatwa

With the New Year upon us, conversations turn to resolutions, intentions, and schemes to generate the next New You. There is no shortage of resources, commentary, and suggestions on the topic, so much so that one might be eager to disregard the phenomenon of reinvention as hokey or tired. When every magazine cover and news report is offering 7 Paths To A Better Soul, a youthful and sexy Beach Body by Sundown, and Willpower for Weenies, it’s all the more tempting to ignore the still, quiet voice within that begs for a fresh start, a clean slate, and a new beginning.

Yoga offers a somewhat different perspective through the practice of Tapas. Tapas literally means ‘heat’, and is often translated as discipline, effort, austerity, catharsis, transformation, and tolerance… all qualities and ideas associated with burning off the old in order to encourage new growth, not unlike a controlled forest fire. To engage in Tapas is to engage with self-discipline in a rigorous yet balanced manner. Tapas doesn’t ask us to set our lives aflame; it expects us to fuel the fire of the seeker’s soul and be transformed in the process.

Regarding the body

Opportunities to practice Tapas abound and aren’t limited to finally making use of an oft-forgotten gym membership. Tapas has a place in how we treat our bodies with respect: careful consideration of the quality and quantity of our food choices, a dedicated yoga practice or other physical effort to maintain and support a strong and vibrant form, and thoughtful regard for how we can avoid misuse and abuse of the body.

Regarding the mind

Tapas speaks to how we choose to bring discipline to our thoughts and intellect. We practice discernment with what we watch, read, study, and listen to from our media and culture. We are austere in our consumption of meaningless content and are careful to avoid contributing commentary, gossip, or advice that is a detriment to ourselves or another.

Regarding the spirit

Tapas brings the fervor of a new convert to our daily soul practices! The fire of enthusiasm belongs in our meditations, prayers, and devotions. Even our responses and reactions to difficult and upsetting circumstances are opportunities to step into the heat of crisis moments and seek out the transformation inherent in them.

Strike The Match:  Four Ways To Seek Blessings From The Burn

  1. Compassionately make note of times you make a choice that lends itself to strength of character, and compare that to times you choose to indulge in guilty pleasures. Is there a healthy balance that keeps you in the heat of Tapas without burning up?
  2. Notice your reactions and engagement with difficult people and upsetting circumstances. Do you tend to stay out of the kitchen in order to avoid the heat? How can unpleasantness you didn’t ask for become an avenue for the transformation you desire?
  3. Address your level of dedication to your yoga and other physical practices, and make some commitments. What tends to get in the way of respecting your body’s need to move and grow stronger? How might those obstacles be eliminated?
  4. Attend to your inner spiritual life with authenticity and grace. Fan the flames of your meditation / contemplation / prayer / study, and ask those practices to align you with your innate capacity for temperance and discipline.

“Do not feel lonely, the entire universe is inside you.

Stop acting so small. You are the universe in ecstatic motion.

Set your life on fire. 

Seek those who fan your flames.”   

― Rumi