The word Tapas means ‘fire’ or ‘heat. My favourite definitions of Tapas in a yogi term, all come back to one thing – the generation of spiritual fire or passion. Fire, although destructive, also has a purifying and cleansing quality, helping life begin again. In this way, allowing our fires to burn helps purify our spirit so that it is capable of growth and love.
Through the purifying burning fire of tapas all the sense organs of the body are perfected by the destruction of all impurities.Patanjali – Yoga Sutras
Tapas is often, incorrectly, translated as solely as austerity, self abnegation or penance. This mistranslation can be harmful to those wishing to seek Samadhi in this way – by inflicting harm on our body, we are not able to become spiritually enlightened. Instead, Tapas should be practiced with intelligence and discrimination, finding balance between indulgence and abstinence.
The objective of tapas is to train the body, mind and senses to become steady and balanced, so they work naturally, spontaneously and selflessly for the soul to express itself purely.Stephen Sturgess – The Yoga Book
Tapas is a result of applying yogic practice (pranayama, asana, pratyhara etc) in a consistent manner without any attachments. It suggests that when we stop engaging with our monkey mind, we have more energy left over to engage in spiritual practice. The authentic practice of tapas is generated by stopping any activity which is habitual, material, ingrained, superficial, neurotic or ties up our energy – thus freeing up that energy and allowing it to be used as a positive force. This free energy sits as Kundalini, waiting to be drawn upon.
Tapas can be achieved through many yogic practices. Physically, through the asanas, energetically through Pranayama and mentally through meditation.
How to practice:
- Take care of your body
- Be aware of your speech
- Be aware of your thoughts
“Speech that I know to be untrue, useless and disagreeable to others, — I do not speak. Speech which I know to be true, but also useless and disagreeable to others, — I do not speak. Speech which I know to be true and useful and yet disagreeable to others, — in that case I know the right time to say it. Speech that is true, useful, agreeable and timely, — that I speak”Buddha