This post was edited on 3/21/22 to add more content.
Sorry, no, I’m not talking about spanish food! The tapas I am referring to here is the discipline, effort, challenge or sometimes even hardship that we go through for the sake of change, growth or to move forward. It is a fiery resolve, pointed strength, or sacrifice for a higher good. On our yoga mats, tapas can refer to the emotional strength we build each time we make the physical effort to stay in a pose while our legs burn. It can refer to the mindfulness we practice on our mat that teaches us to sit through boredom, mental restlessness and emotional upheavals. (Personally, when I think of tapas in regards to asana practice, I think of Ashtanga, a very strong, disciplined style of yoga.) When we understand tapas, we realize that any challenge can be seen as a purifying fire, removing veils from our awareness. It does not mean that we deny or deprive ourselves in any way, but that we discipline ourselves sensibly so that we can move forward in life.
The ‘fire in the belly’ that we create through tapas is called agni. It is the inner fire that we build through our discipline and effort. It burns away and dissolves our ‘impurities’–negative thought patterns and behaviors, emotional baggage, nervous energy, stress–anything we’ve got locked in our body and mind that isn’t serving us, anything we want to cleanse away.
So we can see how these two concepts of tapas and agni definitely help with our spring cleaning–whether it be on a physical, mental or emotional level. In conclusion, at the end of my ‘tapas and agni’ classes I like to share a short paragraph from a book we read for our Yoga Book Club many years ago, Do Your Om Thing: “We all bear burdens, and we must summon the bravery and inner fire [the agni] to face them instead of hide from them. We sometimes fall prey to mindless habits or self-destructive behaviors. We lose our way. We get lazy. We give up. Tapas lights the torch to guide us toward healing. Its purpose is never to destroy or deplete but to rebuild and reignite.”