While most of us think of small plates full of yummy appetizers when we hear the word tapas, in the yoga tradition tapas is a Sanskrit word meaning “heat” or “to burn”—referring to an inner heat cultivated through practice.
Heat is the quickest tool for reshaping something; and fire has been long thought of as the element of transformation. Yoga ignites our inner fire, our place of power and transformation, and begins to slowly shift various aspects of ourselves and our lives, physical and otherwise.
Yoga and Transformation
Yoga is in the business of transformation. My teacher used to say that your yoga practice is meant to “cook” you, and can do so in a few different ways. Chances are that if you’ve begun yoga at all, you’ve experienced this sort of heat.
Going outside your comfort zone, for example, is a form of tapas, and we all feel uncomfortable at different times in class. Likewise, showing up to practice even when you really don’t feel like it is a form of tapas.
Each time you step onto the mat, small physical, physiological, mental, emotional, and energetic transformative shifts take place. Here are a few other ways to cultivate more tapas and keep the fire burning on the mat this winter.
1. Stoke your internal fire with a strong ujjayi breath.
The ujjayi breathing technique commonly used in a lot of yoga classes generates internal heat, awakening and warming the body from the inside out. Really focus on your strong ujjayi breath when you first come to your mat, helping your body warm up as you get ready to move.
2. Heat your body up quickly with vinyasas.
Vinyasa, or “breathing/movement system,” is the linking of movement and breath (one breath for every movement). Begin to move fluidly through simple poses to the steady rhythm of your breath and you’ll feel the heat quickly build.
3. Commit in the foundation of every pose.
Tapas is also cultivated through commitment, discipline, and a burning effort.
How you show up on your mat is reflected in the foundation of your poses. Keep your hands spreading, the pads of the palms pressing into the earth, and arms active throughout practice; stay equally committed in the feet and legs in your standing poses.
4. Hold Warrior poses.
Commit to your foundation and stay steady, strong, and focused while you hold Warrior II or Virabhadrasana II for a minute or two.
Allow all of the uncomfortable sensations arise, and when the mind tells you to straighten your leg, don’t. Instead, take another breath—and then one or two more. Staying in the fire in the face of discomfort, even for a second or two longer, is a powerful form of tapas.
5. Surrender in Savasana.
After heating, opening, and reshaping all class, Savasana is the final incubation. However, even resting on your back with your eyes shut and your body completely still can be uncomfortable for some. Whatever your experience may be, stick with it—stay in Savasana and cook.
Now try these techniques to keep your inner fire ablaze in the midst of the harsh cold of the season, and let me know how it goes in the comments!