The Art of Lighting Yourself on Fire

Jesse Russell

Yoga is about being totally Zen all the time and being able to strike a fancy pose atop a mountain in front of a waterfall, or at least that’s how it’s portrayed in the public eye. In reality, the practice has little to do with being able to stand on our head or twist like a pretzel. It has much more to do with being able to stand firmly upon two feet in a world of seemingly endless chaos, and it’s a way of living in which we take responsibility for our lives as they are in order to cultivate an inner tranquility that remains accessible despite the numerous triggers and challenges we face on a daily basis. In order to accomplish this, self-discipline is a requirement. Self-discipline is not always fun, and often, it necessitates an ability to resist our desire for instant gratification in order to attain something greater and more lasting in the future.

Tapas is not just an assortment of small plates; in yoga it refers to one of the niyamas, or personal observances, and it roughly translates to discipline or austerity. By practicing tapas, or discipline, we create friction by going against the grain of how we might usually react to a situation in order to respond in a way that we know will be more beneficial in the long run. Sometimes it means saying no to something we crave in the moment, and at other times it’s doing what we’d rather put off for another time or we’d rather make an excuse not to do altogether. This internal friction that we experience is the purifying fire of our practice. It is this heat, this fiery discipline, that provides the necessary catalyst for the alchemical transmutation of our soul.

Sometimes just getting onto our mat is tapas. Other times, it might be sitting in meditation, observing our mind. Quite frequently, it’s the day-to-day, mundane activities of our lives and the people and situations that we encounter that set us on fire, so to speak. Over time we learn that our soul is pure gold and that tapas is merely the fire which assists us in burning through the impurities we’ve accumulated.  We must be mindful not to burn ourselves out or allow for the fire to fuel an inner rage that we then project out to the world and those around us. Then the process becomes more of an artistic, ceremonial burn rather than some form of malicious pyromania. Lighting ourselves on fire becomes an art in which we allow ourselves to melt in the flames of our discipline until all that remains is the essence of who we really are.

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