Importance of tapas

Category : General advice, Philosophy 21st January 2019

Inside Yoga 257 (21/1/2019)

Tapas is important: but before you think I am writing a culinary review, tapas is not the Spanish style of eating, but a Sanskrit word which describes the kind of passion, drive and determination we need in life to achieve anything, and in this includes having the motivation to practice yoga as often as possible and get the best from it.

Tapas is one of the Niyamas, guidelines as described in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, the theory behind yoga written more than 4,000 years ago. The Niyamas together with the Yamas, provide the ethical guidelines which help guide the yoga practitioner. The Niyamas are the things we aim for, through discipline, so that we can remove inertia, and to cultivate the energy to pursue an improved quality of life.

The word Tapas literally means heat or to burn, but in this context the heat refers to spiritual heat and purification, the passion or determination to practice and wish realise the truth (of our existence). Before you worry that I am going down a religious line, fear not, I am focussing on what spiritual means using a small “s”, a personal “s”,  which is interested in understanding our own spirit, what drives us, what makes us tick, and asks who am I? It is a philosophical question as much as a spiritual question.

The word Tapas describes the heat which helps drive us forward each day and each moment: it is similarly to the kind of drive that helps us with our career, studies, or sports pursuits. It is the antidote to sloth, torpor and lethargy.  We do not need to feel particularly spiritual, religious or superstitious but consider that we all want to feel better inside, and we all want to understand the world beyond our own heartbeat.

Understanding our daily habits and patterns will help us to use tapas in a positive way. Take for example, we have just woken up and we feel sluggish and lacking in motivation, we can drag ourselves through the day or we can shake off this negative feeling straight away by taking action, which can be a yoga practice, a walk (perhaps with your dog) or a run. The activity, whatever it is, can shed this heavy burden of inertia and negativity. Understanding each morning that we have been here before and know there is a solution helps us to take action – a yoga practice does just that. Yes, it is hard to start, but we do know how much better we feel afterwards, so do no delay, just start! This is understanding and using tapas to good effect on a daily basis.

In the context of hatha yoga, tapas means – according to TKV Desikachar – the practice of asanas and pranayama (physical and breathing exercises) which help get rid of blocks and impurities in our system, and other benefits. “It is the same principle as heating gold in order to purify it,” he says.

Tapas according to BKS Iyengar means: “a burning effort under all circumstances to achieve a definite goal in life. It involves purification, self-discipline and austerity.”

In life nothing comes for free, to most of us, and effort is usually required – yoga is no different. But before you think this sounds a bit harsh or tough, Iyengar adds: “By tapas the yogi develops strength in body, mind and character. He (or she) gains courage and wisdom, integrity, straightforwardness and simplicity.”

Tapas might sound like hard work but it doesn’t have to be, because it is part of a practice which encourages us to keep going forward, and as we build our tapas, we find it each day to find that get up and go which can sometimes feel lost!

Once applied here in yoga it will help you with other aspects of your life – yoga practice provides the tools to deal and cope with daily life, and above all, enjoy it too.

For an overview of the yamas and niyamas see my blog:

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