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March 3 2024 Unlocking Wellness: Integrating Fire and Discipline Through Tapas, Utkatsana, and Super Vegan Chili

We continue our discussion this week on the second limb of yoga, the Niyamas; specifically, the third Niyama, Tapas which refers to discipline. The word comes from the root Sanskrit verb “tap” which means “to burn” and can represent a sense of fiery discipline. We can interpret this simply, in the words of T.K.V. Desikachar as “the activity of keeping the body fit” and “heat the body, and, by doing so, to cleanse it”.  


However! Whenever we think about these yoga terms in the context of today, we discover many possible interpretations. Other reflections on this niyama focus on the tapas (fire) burning away old negative habits or patterns which also takes discipline. When we focus on practicing this niyama on the mat, we acknowledge the discipline (fire) around maintaining a regular practice, even 10 minutes a day. One of the many times I read Desikachar’s Heart of Yoga, I recall being drawn to his discussion on agni, or fire, and the fire we have within. In his discussions on pranayama (yoga breathing disciplines), he talks about our inner agni burning up all the internal rubbish. To me this rubbish represents negative things in my life that I create or can control with disciplined positive actions. This is my version of practicing tapas off the mat.

For more on the topic follow link below:


Our Practice – Utkatasana (Thunderbolt Pose)


Instead of usual suspects of boat and plank pose, I have settled on thunderbolt (utkatasana) to practice tapas on the mat. We practice this regularly and I like it as an equal opportunity challenging pose. This means that you do not need to be flexible or hypermobile or super fit to practice it, and, even if you are, it is still super challenging and turns on the tapas (FIRE)!


What are the benefits of this challenging pose? Thunderbolt pose (also known as fierce pose and chair pose) strengthens the muscles in your thighs and feet; increases ankle mobility; tones your core muscles. For me, the most important thing to do when practicing this pose is to remember to breathe. I know I say this a lot, but I tend to hold my breath in the most challenging poses which makes it that much more difficult. When we I remind myself to breathe, it is an epiphany, every time.

  • Start in tadasana (mountain pose)-check in that you have weight equally distributed through all four corners of your feet weight evenly distributed between both legs.

  • Exhale as you bend your knees, press your buttocks back imagining you are seated on a chair. Check in that knees are in line with each other.

  • Raise your arms overhead, with your palms facing each other. If that does not feel good in your shoulders, try widening them or use cactus arms.

  • Most important is to take good breaths, lengthen the spine, relax. While this can be very intense, focused breathing really helps.

  • As you sink deeper be sure that you can see your toes, if you cannot, shift weight back a bit into your heels and maybe come back up a bit.

  • My favorite way to come out of the pose is to forward fold.


Meditating on Discipline - Tapas


As we think about tapas we can take inspiration from Iyengar and the Dalai Lama, I love these quotes, worth repeating.


“A worthy aim makes life illumined, pure and divine. Without such an aim, action and prayer have no value. Life without tapas is like a heart without love”. – BKS Iyengar

“A disciplined mind leads to happiness, and an undisciplined mind leads to suffering” – Dalai Lama

I love the parable about the farmer negotiating a deal with God to provide perfect crop growing weather and then what happens. I relate it to the practice of tapas. It demonstrates that without hard work and discipline nothing can be created that has depth, quality, or soul. Link to the quick story below.



Below find a link to a video with a few moments from an aarti that i attended on the Ganga River in Rishikesh, India. A beautiful ritual that uses fire as an offering. We lit small dishes with flowers and a candle that floats down the river.

Nurturing with Food – Super Vegan “Meat” Chili


Nothing like some “fiery” spicy chili to honor tapas this week. For years I have made my vegetarian chili without meat. When Sam, my older son, was home during the pandemic we adapted the following recipe to include plant-based protein (like Beyond burger) from my original recipe for bean only chili. I had inspiration from the website in which they claim their chili won in a chili cook off contest (which included real meat versions). Their flavoring of the “meat” really adds something. I think this will appeal to vegans and meat eaters alike. Pair it with the cornbread recipe also below.

See you on the mat


Julia Anne



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