Tapas is the generating of light and heat, something that Phoenix, Arizona does well. But the practice of tapas is more about the spiritual heat of releasing identity with the false self. That’s a whole lot of mumbo-jumbo for most people, even students that have been practicing for some time if they come to yoga for the exercise. If, however, people approach yoga with an openness to accept all the practice can offer, then living more artfully is a joyous result.
So often people react to situations and circumstances from an unconscious perspective. As soon as something happens that violates the ego, we move into flight or fight mode. This means we either fight with how the moment is showing up, or we run away from it, perhaps indulging in a desire that will temporarily make our ego feel better but does nothing for helping us to let go of the “button pushing” that people, experiences, and circumstances create in our lives. If there is a space created between the incident and our knee-jerk reactions, then that gives us an opportunity to respond instead of react. Reaction comes from fear while a response is generated from a place of observance. Every time we stall before reacting and choose another means by which to respond, then we “burn away” the habit that keeps the ego protected.
This is not to say that “down with the ego” should be a yogis war cry. In fact, we need the ego to survive in society. The ego knows this and will fight dirty to keep its position as the ruler of our lives. The negative self-talk during postures on the mat, such as comparisons, judgements, and criticisms that lead to guilt and shame are ways in which the ego keeps the true Self hidden. Tapas is a way to starve out the ego’s habits of unconscious behaviors so that we can recognize our true essence.
First comes tapas of the body. Burning out toxins and releasing energetic blocks allows the physical body to perform optimally. This is closely followed by tapas of speech (mind) and behavior (heart). The intention of practicing tapas is to purify (burn away) the self-concepts that block the light of the true Self.
One can begin practicing tapas, like all the yamas and niyamas, on the mat. The ego will likely keep up a constant deluge of comments regarding the teacher, our performance on the mat, our preferences for the postures, our judgements of the person in front of us, comparisons of doing a particular pose today as to how it showed up a week ago, and all the while fortifying its presence. When we continue to move the body through the postures, physical “heat” can be created. This gives us the opportunity to engage with (i.e. “feed”) the ego, or not engage with it, thus creating tapas in the mind. Enough practice with that, and a bit of space is created on the mat when we begin to react typically to a particular pose, and then we choose a different response. Tree is just tree. For those moments in our lives, we’re on one leg, our palms together overhead, maybe wobbling, maybe falling out of the pose, but instead of getting angry or making silent snide comments, we breathe. We root down the standing leg. We lengthen the spine. We move slower into the pose. In the second half of the posture, we watch the thoughts yet don’t engage with them. We “burn” them out. This leads to a reduction in those thoughts. It leads to time off the mat when we no longer have knee-jerk reactions. We don’t burst into tears or wield our anger like a shield. We no longer believe the ego that tries to shame us into behaving a particular way. Without automatic reactions to the typical triggers, we begin to live life with more ease and less angst.
Have you had experience “burning away” thoughts, reactions, or behaviors? Share your practice of tapas below. I have included tapas as a subject for a poem that is included in my Yoga Poem Project. Take a look at it on my website: www.myjoyentereprises.com