It's one thing to learn all the physical poses in yoga, how they are "performed" and their Sanskrit name but there is a whole other side of yoga - the philosophy of practice.
Over the last couple weeks, I've come across the word "tapas" in my reading and while participating in various yoga DVDs. It stopped me in my tracks because I thought "tapas" meant food, appetizers to be exact. What does that have to do with yoga?
Well, like many words, there are multiple meanings and definitions for one single word. So in fact it can be used on a restaurant menu but also in the context of yoga philosophy.
I had to know more...
And in drops Patanjali again as Tapas is found in his writings. It is under his second limb of the eight limbed yoga system otherwise known as the Niyamas, or suggested observances. Tapas is referred to as austerity.
Okay, so sounds like non-indulgence. I've found others write about tapas as discipline or the means of doing the work. The word "tapas" in Sanskrit means "heat" and has been referred to the "fire within".
So how does this all fit?
Judith Hanson Lasater wrote it well on her website:
"This is the spirit of tapas: the willingness to follow through with difficult decisions while maintaining compassion for all the effects that those decisions might have for self and others. Tapas is ultimately measured in the consistent willingness to begin practice again and again, over and over again to bring awareness to this very moment. Ultimately nothing is more difficult than consistency. "
My many weeks of working on downward facing dog may be an example of tapas for me. In Yoga as Medicine book, Timothy McCall writes that downward facing dog is a good pose to build tapas.
Also, for me, pigeon pose (Eka Pada Rajakapotasana) this week and quite frankly, every time I practice this pose, it takes not only physical energy but mental toughness to get through holding the static hip stretch.
But others argue that it isn't about being pushed in a pose that works on tapas.
Regardless, the presence of this word popping up over and over the last while fits into others areas of my life. It has me thinking that I've been building tapas as a parent and as an individual wanting to contribute in this world.
Lots of single parenting lately due to circumstance beyond our control and what.I.hope.will.have.huge.impact-type project (not yet revealed!) that has been taking up a place (and space) in my mind and heart for a while. Both have pushed me and being consistent in vision and awareness has been key.
As with anything that is worth it, being consistent and enjoying the process (even when it sucks - ya pigeon pose, I'm talking to you!) is essential.
So, bring it on! How are you building tapas?
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Aspiring Yoga Teacher
I've practiced yoga since I was a pre-teen and have always found it to keep me centered. I will be a teacher one day and this is my journey to discover teaching and practice.