Feeding Fire with Tapas


I started writing this on January 1st. I was going to tell you my thoughts on New Year’s resolutions, perhaps even scattered with useful tips on setting intentions for a fresh start. Naïve? Absolutely. I noted down a few sentences, undoubtedly got distracted by my phone and then life played that naughty trick it has a habit of playing; time slipped through my fingers. I blinked and breathed and stirred and slumbered and now… it’s May. Examining this little mishap has taught me a couple of things though. First and foremost, letting life get in the way is never something to kick yourself for. It happens. Secondly, when life inevitably does get in the way, it’s important to remember to direct our energy toward what really matters to us. We each have something that ignites us, that lights us up from within, and keeping that fire burning is our utmost duty.

Initially, my reaction to forgetting this potential masterpiece of a clichéd blog post was pure judgement – how could I have left this unwritten for so long? Am I really a dedicated writer? Who do I think I am to give advice on resolutions anyway?! As I peeled back layer upon layer of negativity about something really rather insignificant, a remarkable thing occurred. I momentarily stepped away from all the guilt and shame, giving me sweet freedom to observe what was really going on, to see the intricate details of the thought pattern. I wasn’t berating myself because I cared about voicing that particular article, or about letting my tiny audience down. I was being hard on myself because I’d forgotten to stoke my fire.

Thankfully, I had access to some interesting kindling: Tapas. Nope, not chorizo and chopitos, but a yogic concept passed down through the ages. Although yoga can be interpreted differently from person to person, it certainly isn’t all stretching and sitting still. Patanjali, the ancient sage who first codified yoga, provided a lesser known moral backbone to support and guide the practice. This included virtuous obligations and codes of conduct, intended to steer people toward living with meaning, purpose and duty. Tapas is one of these codes, derived from the root of the Sanskrit verb ‘tap,’ meaning ‘to burn.’ It can be understood as a kind of fiery self-discipline, undeniably vital to the physical and mental practices of yoga, but equally as imperative to life off the mat.

Discipline is so often viewed in terms of punishment and retribution, but Tapas isn’t a prompt to get solemn and serious. Tapas is a delicate dance between discipline and passion. It’s that willpower that gets you up at 5am for a hike or a fishing trip, that sees you on your knees pulling out garden weeds in the wind and rain. It’s the willingness to practice, paint, write, run, dance and do the thing you don’t feel like doing, just because you know it will ultimately make you feel good. We all intrinsically know that the benefits of self-discipline can be deeply rewarding, often heightening our desire for personal growth and encouraging us to be the best we can be. 

Nonetheless, stoking your fire takes courage - as does having the humility to recognise when you’ve let your discipline slip. In putting off this article for so long, I was slowly neglecting my Tapas, losing little by little that burning enthusiasm to write. Most importantly, I came to realise I had been here before. Countless times. All those mornings where a snooze was so much more alluring than my mat. The gym sessions and long walks swapped for the next episode of that desperately important TV show. I’m truly not suggesting that you live a life without lie-ins and Netflix, but it’s vital that we stop and ask ourselves, once in a while, if what we are doing is nourishing us physically, mentally or emotionally. It’s likely that the answer will often be no, in which case a dash of Tapas could be just what you need.

Just like its Spanish namesake, you can start small with Tapas. Going to bed half an hour early to wake up in time for a morning run? That’s Tapas. Drinking one less glass of wine so you feel fresh for your class? Tapas again. Swapping the TV remote for your notebook? I guess I’ve made my point. Once you start to take discerning action, no matter how small, you’ll probably start to notice a ripple effect. Each action will have a reaction, feeding into the next. In my case, sitting down to finally write these words – even though they are not quite what I had in mind – has stoked the embers, fed the fire. The negative criticism has fallen away and I’m hungry for more. It might be May, but it turns out you don’t need a New Year to make resolutions. You simply need to be resolute.