When the weather starts to turn colder and the skies grayer, our internal state often follows suit. This time of year, as Summer turns to Fall and Fall turns to Winter, can leave us feeling sluggish, foggy and closed off. We feel more inclined to seek the couch as a refuge after a long day rather than heading to the gym or spending time in nature—things that would normally make us feel better, somehow seem less appealing. To counteract this without having to look outside ourselves, we can cultivate tapas. Before you get excited…no, I don’t mean we should all head to the nearest bar and fill ourselves with shareable small food plates as we down cocktails (though this probably has its place from time to time as well). I mean tapas, one of the five niyamas—spiritual observances—of yoga.
Tapas can be understood as purification through discipline and is derived from the Sanskrit root “tap”—meaning “to burn.” In this context, the art of tapas allows us to reignite the fire–the “agni”–within. This idea of burning through tapas is symbolic of our spiritual rebirth—it aims to burn off the impediments that keep us from knowing true yoga—union with universe, with others, and, most importantly, with ourselves. This is an important point. Tapas asks us to remove the barriers within ourselves to liberation. It does NOT ask that we search for things outside of ourselves in order to grow. This is key, because we often feel like we need to add things to our lives—a new home gym, a fresh haircut, a different wardrobe—in order to feel refreshed. Tapas gives us the means for an inner makeover, which is far more important. The practice of tapas requires not that we push harder or longer, but that we make time for consistency in striving for our goals, that we make our self growth a priority, that we make the effort to burn away the old habits that keep us locked in destructive cycles.
Challenging situations are like fire—we can channel them to work on our behalf as a means of purification, like a Pheonix, liberating that which we are capable of becoming. Or, we can allow them to crush us, reducing our spirit to smoldering ashes. The choice is ours. The only question is: are we willing to use the force that underlies life’s difficulties for our transformation? Are we brave enough to walk boldly into the fire of our own hearts?
Getting downright cozy with who we really are, holding ourselves accountable, unearthing the limiting beliefs, and being honest about where there’s room to grow, can be uncomfortable—scary, even. The important thing here is that when we push ourselves—whether it be on or off our yoga mats—the motivator should always be love, not fear. The same can be said of any decision we make in life, but it’s especially relevant here. Fear tells us we need to do more, be better, look different. Love tells us that we already are enough and that there’s nothing can be done to diminish our worth, that we are meant to blossom and there’s nothing that can be lost in doing so. When we light a fire under ourselves (or others, for that matter), the goal should always be to awaken our potential—not to become someone different than we are. We already are everything that ever was and ever will be. We are powerful beings of light full of limitless potential—there is nothing to be added, only uncovered.