Tapas,the third of Patanjalis Niyamas, is derived from the root Sanskrit verb “to burn”. Tapas is often defined as discipline, passion, or commitment to burn away impurities and spark our inner fire.
The New Year is a time when many of us make Resolutions. We take time to choose things we want to work on, and aim to mentally, physically, and emotionally set up the year ahead for our greatest health, happiness, and success. These resolutions are expressed outwardly, but anyone who as ever had a resolution go awry knows that simply stating something, putting it “out there” does not necessarily mean it will happen (in here). Holding ourselves accountable to others helps to motivate – but the true fire comes from within. We commit not to others, but to ourselves.
To feel that true Tapas – that true fire and passion that drives a commitment, we need to connect to our inner landscape. It is wonderful to say we want to “workout 5 days a week” but unless we FEEL it, the passion and commitment wont be there. Many books on goal setting and success will tell you that it is important to set small achievable goals rather than big far-off dreams that may feel quickly unattainable (I want to start running 20 minutes 3 times a week, rather than “I want to run a marathon”) This makes sense not only because it can help prevent “goal fatigue” when our stated resolution is so far from our current reality, but also because starting to do something that we can truly feel, in our bodies and not just through the lens of achievement, can fuel our inner fire.
If one has never run, or never practiced Yoga at all, there is no inner compass for understanding how a marathon, or headstand, might feel. But after your very first 15 minute jog, or your first basic yoga introduction, you can feel in your body what is different, and from there it is a bit easier to imagine, and FEEL what it could be like to run 5 miles, (and eventually 10, and maybe at some point 26.4!). The felt sense of your inner landscape helps to stoke the fire to support your commitment to a goal. This is true even If our resolutions are not physical. Even if our hope is to volunteer more – we can feel, in our heart, our chest, our belly – the sensations that come from the first time we help others at a soup kitchen or tutoring program. That feeling is what will ultimately make us want to commit to doing it monthly, or weekly, or maybe even start our own program at some point
So as we think about how we hope to make this year happier, healthier, more successful, and more selfless, take a moment to really explore what your resolutions will feel like, and perhaps commit to those where the inner felt sensations light the biggest fire!