Tapas (Heat): Fourth Pillar of Power Yoga

The third pillar of power yoga is tapas (Sanskrit for “heat”). It feels good for me when I practice yoga in a heated room (or in the outdoors in Singapore where we are graced with natural heat and humidity. I also experience joy inside my physical body as I create more internal heat with breath and movement. The more heat I create the more freedom and fluidity I feel in my body...and I seem to enjoy the deep rest of Savasana more then too!

Consider that we are not just talking about the temperature in the room or our bodies when we speak of tapas in yoga. Tapas is an energy that burns off the excess. Most of us carry excess energy that does not serve us well: doubt, fears, weight, grudges, concerns, and worries. Through the practice of yoga, we can burn these things away and make space for something new. When we choose to stay and breathe in challenging poses, we learn to find peace in the "heat of the moment". Rather than put the fire out, let the fire burn away what no longer serves you.

During my Baptiste level two training in Sundance, UT (April 2014), with my teacher Paige Elenson, I really came to better understand the magic of tapas. Here is what I had to say after that training:

"I spend a lot of my time worrying about my future and thinking about how my past decisions will affect my future. I worry about being a good enough wife, sister, aunt, daughter, friend, boss, and yoga teacher. I am concerned about looking good in front of my students, co-workers, and family. I fear being alone in life. Sometimes I even sit down to meditate with the intention of getting these thoughts out of my head, only to end up even more concerned, stressed, annoyed, and fearful. When I get on my mat for my yoga practice, I do get out of my head. I get into my physical body and live in the present moment. In those present moments my fears and concerns seem to literally melt away. I move and breathe and let the heat burn away the past and the concern of the future. I do not try to do this. Rather it happens when I just let it happen. That’s where the magic is! I get to just be myself."

In my training, I realized that my True North, the person I really am (not the one I worry about being) is truly a loved and loving person. While in frog pose (for a very long time) in front of the fire in the yoga room at Sundance UT, Paige asked me to think about my life when I was a young child. As I gazed at the burning flames, I saw a cute blond toddler that everyone loved to be around. I did not try to please people at a young age. I did not ask to be loved when I was small. I simply was love. And in being love, I gave love. In being love, I received love. My natural way of being was of love. And my natural way of being now is of love. Yet, I let the worries and concerns of looking good and being enough stand in my way sometimes. I try to hide parts of myself that I think others will not approve of, and end up hiding my real self. And the tapas in my asana practice helps to burn away that which stands in my way of being my greatest self. Also, just as the fire in the room in Sundance provided heat and light, the tapas in my practice also lights things up brightly. Like I did when I was a toddler, I light up a room when I let myself really shine; when I let myself be seen; when I let myself get messy; when I let myself dance; when I let myself be love. At the end of the week, Paige gave me a bracelet and infused it with a huge matchbox to bring heat to things; to light things up; and to burn away whatever is in the way.

TapasThat week, I gained an understanding of the power of tapas in my asana practice. Even more importantly, I realized that who I am and what I do on my mat, does not need to be reserved for my mat. I want a strong relationship with my husband. This means burning away my concern for our future and lighting things up when we are together. I want to connect with old friends. This means letting go of my concern that we haven’t spoken in a while and igniting our friendship. I want to empower my students to their greatest potential. This means bringing tapas to my classes so that students can burn away what stands in the way of their greatest selves. I know so much is possible in my life and I am open to burning away my concerns and lighting things up, moment by moment, by moment.

What are open to in your practice and your life right now? What can you burn away to give you access to what is possible?

Dr. Trish Corley is a Baptiste certified yoga teacher and a doctor of physiotherapy. She leads regularly scheduled yoga classes in Singapore and teacher trainings and workshops globally. 

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