Daily Practice: Tapas – the Heat of Mindfulness

June 20, 2010 By: Michael E. Crowley Category: Mind Body Spirit, Yoga

Gare Saint Lazare by Claude Monet

The image of my late great-grandfather was in my mind as I practiced yoga this week.  Wilbur McKenna, or “Mac” as his co-workers called him, was a railroader who drove steam, diesel, and electric locomotives for the Milwaukee Road through southern Montana and the surrounding states.

His constant companion, whether hauling passengers through mountain passes at three a.m. or freight through the grasslands at mid-day, was his fireman, the man who kept the boilers stoked and operating at enough pressure to keep the trains moving.  That’s as clear and as basic an illustration of the precept of tapas as I can think of: Maintaining the energy needed to keep moving forward.

As laid out in Christine Brown’s The Yoga Bible, published in 2003 by Walking Stick Press, tapas is one of the five niyamas, or disciplines that the yogi adopts to govern their conduct towards themselves and others: “Originating from verbs meaning “to burn” or “to cook”, this precept encourages you to develop a strong resolve and a burning enthusiasm both for your practice and for your life’s work.  Like the other precepts, tapas demands discipline, self-control, and persistence.”

I initially confused tapas with enthusiasm itself before I began reading more about it.  Now that I see it more clearly, I’m reminded of this quote from Richard Rolle’s The Fire of Love: “I cannot tell you how surprised I was the first time I felt my heart begin to warm.” Rolle, a 14th century English hermit, was also captivated by the warmth and the fire of being unified in love, and I am myself surprised by the energy released by opening my understanding of things by even a fraction.  It impels me to keep going on this path, not just to improve for improvement’s sake but to keep moving for the sheer joy of it.

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