I love a good round of tapas as much as anyone. Small tapenades with baguettes, and various goat cheese topped morsels all make me drool. Yet, there is another form of tapas that we don’t often order.
In the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali describes tapas as heat or intensity. My favorite definition of tapas is: “the willingness to endure intensity for the sake of transformation.” In our yoga practice, this can directly apply to the effortful and intense poses we hold to gain strength or newfound flexibility. Tapas is not intended to be masochistic. It seems quite unnecessary to hold a low plank pose for 7 hours! We are not to endure intensity merely for the sake of intensity, but rather for what we glean moving through the experience. The perspective we gain on the other side.
Off our mats, we experience tapas in missed flights, layoffs, losses and heartaches. This heat or intensity often reminds us that: “the only way out is through.” When experiencing this intensity, it is important to remember we can be with the intensity and not become it. When we become tense, harsh, or brittle, we perpetuate the passing experience that we are enduring.
The jelly to the peanut butter of tapas is svadhyaya or self-study. Moments of quiet reflection during our practice can balance more effortful moments of tapas. If we had entire practice of svadhyaya- we would be a constant puddle of savasana on our mat. If we were all tapas, we would leave our practice feeling more wigged out than when we started.
Tapas and svadhyaya can provide perspective and balance both on and off the mat. We can gain insight from intense situations, when we give ourselves enough breath and space for reflection. We might not order a round of Patanjali’s tapas out at a trendy restaurant, but these opportunities to “endure intensity for the sake of transformation” surround us.