What is Tapas? Bringing Fiery Enthusiasm to Your Yoga Practice

Julia in Bronze Pursuitphoto credit:  Heinz Ruckemann

Tapas is the third niyama (rule of personal behavior or observance) in yoga. It is sometimes thought of as the willingness to do whatever it takes to reach a certain goal. It is defined as heat or fire referring to the fire that is necessary to bring about transformation.

If we want to affect change on any level whether it’s to lose weight, achieve a certain level in our jobs or create a daily yoga practice, we need to constantly commit to the idea of tapas.

I’ve been thinking about tapas these past couple of days. My little sister just won the three bronze medals in the Canadian National Track Cycling Championships. Needless to say, I am very proud!

Julia has worked incredibly hard to reach this level. She’s not a professional athlete. She has a full-time job and a partner and family to take care of. Her coach volunteers his time. She takes time off work, often without pay, to travel to races all over the world and in order to train since there is no track near where she lives.

Unfortunately, she has had many setbacks over the past few years. Broken bones and fractures in various places (won’t go into too much detail here in case my mom is reading this…) often before important races and the injuries have taken her out for entire seasons. Yet she continues.

We tend to think of tapas and discipline in terms of austerity and having to forgo certain things. In The Secret Power of Yoga, Nischala Joy Devi gives the following interpretation for Tapas:

“Living life with the zeal and sincerity, the purifying flame is ignited (Tapas), revealing the inner light.”

I think that the thing that keeps bringing my sister back to here cycling is her passion. She loves it and wants to be at the top of her game. And in order to get there she has to work hard. She is happy to make trade-offs in other areas of her life.  But I don’t think she sees it as sacrifice (in the sense of losing anything) because she gains so much from her training and racing. She trains with all her heart and that is reflected in her life.

In yoga, the sages say that one of the requirements of tapas is the need to cut through distractions and to bring our full attention to the present moment. How often do you give whatever you are doing 100% of your attention? In our multitasking lives, really not as easy as it sounds!

This week when you do asana, think of applying tapas to your practice. Bring some yogic zeal and enthusiasm to your mat! Rather than practicing mechanically, do so with awareness and a focused intensity towards affecting change.

And congratulations Julia — you’re my hero!

6 thoughts on “What is Tapas? Bringing Fiery Enthusiasm to Your Yoga Practice”

  1. Charlotte Bradley

    KL – thanks for your thoughtful comment. I had a wonderful yoga teacher last year who always made us think about how to bring yoga into everything we do. It sure was a year of discovery.

    You have some gorgeous pictures of yoga by the ocean on your blog. What a treat do practice yoga in such a beautiful setting. Perhaps I’ll get to New Zealand and join you for a class one day!

    Grammy Bradley (aka mom)… I’m sure my boys will be getting injured in some sport they are passionate about in the not too distant future … then it will be my turn to freak out!

  2. Thanks for this living tapas lesson~~I incorporated a discussion of tapas into my class last night, after this as inspiration, to encourage my students to use handstand and side crow to move beyond fear and grow beyond what they thought they were capable of…

    And very sweet, your love and support of your sister.


  3. Charlotte Bradley

    Hi Tina – What a great way to discuss tapas. Crow is an asana that eludes me! It is probably in large part due to fear of falling flat on my face. Plus it has always been (that I haven’t done crow) and so don’t see myself as a crow-person. A good reminder to expand your own idea of what you are capable of and even who you are. In some ways, it is much easier to think “this is just me” than to experiment with the realization that “me” is constantly changing. But how freeing it is that we can influence change.

Leave a Comment