कायेन्द्रियसिद्धिरशुद्धिक्षयात् तपसः ॥ २.४३ ॥

kāyendriyasiddhiraśuddhikṣayāt tapasaḥ || 2.43 ||

From Tapas (austerity), on the account of the destruction of impurities, there is perfection of the body and the sense-organs.


Tapas is a Sanskrit word usually translated to mean to heat or to burn. It comes from the root tap which means to shine, burn or give out warmth. It can also be used to describe the austerity, penance and motivation for ones actions.

With the summer months behind us it can be nice to reflect on heat and how it serves a vital role not just in our yoga practice but also in life.

All life starts with heat, from the act of intercourse to the birthing of new life, keeping ourselves and others warm is important for survival. A mother hen will sit on her eggs for their survival and a baby joey will find itself safe, warm and secure in its mothers pouch.

Our yoga practice is trying to harness and control the essence of life and then move it in an upward direction toward liberation. Not in the sense that you need to make yourself overheat but instead to control the energy in the body. This control comes as tapas from within. Think of it as a burning desire or motivation to do good. What are the things that light your own inner fire, keep you warm or at least strike a little spark within? Sometimes it’s the craziest and wildest things we can only admit to ourselves and sometimes it’s the simplest actions we make daily. Having the motivation to become fit and flexible through yoga is great but we all know that’s not the main reason for practicing. There is something else, something underneath like warm coals on a fire that just need a little attention and stoking in order to flame again.

Not only are we trying to maintain a steady heat inside of us and around us we are also looking to control it and know when to simmer and when to heat again. Finding this is tapas. Mastering this takes tapas.

We have the phrase ‘in the heat of the argument’ to perhaps describe something that was said or done that wasn’t meant or it was misguided in the wrong way. Uncontrolled heat can cause problems, it can frazzle and cause destruction. In nature it looks like bush fires and earthquakes. In your home it looks like burning your toast or (god forbid) your phone overheating from overuse. In your body it can feel like being rundown, anxious and overworked and can usually result in high blood pressure and other health issues. The rigorous nature of the yoga practice is designed to make the body warm, induce sweat and make you feel uncomfortable.

If taking a dynamic yoga class is too much for you in terms of the heat and energy you are expelling then there are definitively other avenues for your practice to be effective and still require tapas.

The burning desire for change and transformation comes at different stages in life and the commitment to it can be the hardest part, for some it is losing weight or gaining strength, for others its peace of mind, meditating more, reducing the amount of suffering in your own life as well as others. Whatever change you are looking for in life it will require effort and our yoga practice is born out of this heat inducing energy and that same effort is required to sustain it.

Having a regular āsana practice is a great outlet for tapas and can prove beneficial in controlling and conducting the energy in the body, but its not the only way. An altar or a specific place in your own space that is dedicated to reminding you about the uplifting people, places and moments in life can reward you on a regular basis. Just having a glimpse of an altar can be enough to spark or re-kindle the encouragement needed for the next few moments of your day or journey ahead.

In India people can travel for hundreds of kilometres in spiritual pursuits. Driven by a passion and a burning desire to offer their efforts or seek guidance through troubled times. Almost every temple or place of spiritual significance has a candle or flame which can be a representation of this internal fire, heat and to illuminate the darkness in our lives. In turn we can then be that flame of illumination for others and so the lightness spreads far and wide.

Pradīpikā is a Sanskrit word used for texts that are illuminating or shining light on specific subjects. Think about a manual or a book that you are learning from, it is showing you and guiding you in specific areas but reading alone doesn’t get the job done. Part of the text is to make it experiential and that requires your own effort or tapas to go from theory to practice.

Regardless of whether you draw motivation from books or ancient texts; or from friends, colleagues, family members and others; it’s important to acknowledge and value the heat and burning desire that is within each and every one of us. Once we can connect with that inner essence and start to fan the flames of our own good qualities and motivations then not only will our yoga practice evolve but our life will be seen as the brightness that can drive out darkness in our lives and others.

– Doug Whittaker