Tapas means fire. It’s a heat and fire that cooks or transforms you. In the literal sense, you can think of the way an oven’s heat transforms ingredients into a meal; or the way a forge’s fires transforms metal into tools. You can feel a fiery heat in your muscles during a powerful vinyasa class or while holding a strong pose for an extended time. This heat in your muscles transforms them into fibers of strength and power. Often yoga studios heat their classrooms for this same reason, because it is thought that the heat will aid in the transformative process of yoga both on a physical level making stretches easier to go deeper, and on a psychological level creating the circumstances for you to press your threshold for endurance and stamina to new levels.
Tapas is also the fires of self discipline and determination. These fires have the power to transform us in very profound ways. An example of this type of tapas is “sticking to your guns” or having integrity even when the going gets rough. Tapas is the discipline to do the right thing, even when it’s a hard path and there are no short cuts. The yoga master BKS Iyengar wrote this about Tapas in his book Light on Yoga: “Tapas … means a burning effort under all circumstances to achieve a definite goal in life. It involves purification, self discipline and austerity. The whole science of character building may be regarded as a practice of tapas.”
Let’s blend pranayama (breathwork) with our meditation this week to see if we can witness the transformative properties of fire and heat in our practice. We’ll start each meditation with several rounds of “breath of fire.” To perform Breath of Fire, sit tall and comfortably. Close your eyes and begin with one long deep breath, then use your belly to pump your exhales out through the nose rapidly. Set a steady rapid pace for your exhales, and continue pumping the breath out in short powerful bursts. When your have completed the round of Breath of Fire, close the practice by breathing in deeply and holding your breath for a moment, then releasing the breath and breathing naturally.
On the first day, try round 1 for 1 minute of breath of fire, round 2 for 90 seconds, and round 3 for 2 minutes.
Over the course of this week, see if you can lengthen the amount of time to 3 rounds of 3 minutes each, or 1 round of 510 minutes in duration.
Some tingling sensations or lightheadedness are normal during and after this practice.
You might also feel fiery fatigue in the muscles of your belly and diaphragm. However, if you feel dizzy, panicked, or nauseous you probably need to set a slower pace for the breath so as not to hyperventilate.
Follow the rounds of Breath of Fire with stillness and quiet meditation. Sit quietly and breathe naturally for 10min and witness whether the Tapas of this practice has helped transform your mind, emotions and energy.
Here is a short how to video for Breath of Fire:
In your journal, create a breathing and meditation log for your practice this week. Draw two columns on your paper. Before beginning each day’s meditation, write 5 words on one side of the columns describing your mental, emotional, energetic state. Do you feel tired? Stressed? Anxious? Elated? Upset? Serene? Then, after performing Breath of Fire and meditating for 10min, write another 5 words in the second column describing your new state of being. We probably already know that yoga and meditation are powerful tools, but this journal helps us spell out exactly how yoga is transforming us on a daily basis.