Tapas – sparking AND tending your inner fire with care

Our theme for the month of August is, appropriately,  Tapas. Tapas, one of the Niyamas, comes from the Sanskrit word “Tap” or to burn, and is defined as discipline, or purity. The more traditional interpretation is the “burning off” any impediments (from the toxins in our bodies, to the thought patterns in our minds) which can stand in the way of our true Yoga, or union with the universe.

This intense form of purity is an easy sell in our Western World – from omnipresent hand-sanitizers (to “fight germs!”) to various and intense diet cleanses, our culture tends to favor “the battle”, and the difficult.

However true Tapas is not simply a quick flash of blinding heat, or a one-size-fits all way of punishing our bodies or minds into submission.  As Swami Satchidananda said, “Tapas is self-discipline, not self torture” and the discipline that serves one person best, may not be best for another. (e.g. If you tend to be a fiery intense person, perhaps the Tapas that serves you best is committing to a meditation practice, rather than adding more Hot Yoga. If you tend towards lethargy, committing to 10 sun salutations each morning will likely serve you better then a 5 day yoga binge that ends almost as quickly as it started.)

A practice of Tapas can help us align with the true Yogic goal of connection – to our bodies, our minds, and to one another. But to do so it must be sustainable. A juice cleanse or a decision to cancel all social media may be a great way to SPARK your inner fire, but unless one has the commitment to think continually about what we put into our bodies each day, and how we feed our minds, that fire will burn out as quickly as it started. True lasting change happens slowly – a fire must be tended mindfully so that it can continue to burn without becoming too intense.