A couple of weeks ago my family and I took the opportunity to travel to Wyoming and visit both Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks. They were each extraordinary in their own ways but as we explored them we noticed many areas of woods that had been burned from forest fires and in various stages of re-growth. What we learned is that naturally occurring forest fires serve a valuable purpose in many ways. This became quite symbolic for me as it feels a bit like we are all collectively (and some people literally as well) experiencing the long burn of a spiritual wild fire. We have seen and experienced things we would never have thought possible and it has been excruciating. And many of us are looking for the message and the growth that can bloom out of the ashes of this time.
As I explored this metaphor within myself and my yoga practice it reminded me of the Sanskrit word Tapas which simply translated means heat. However, this word represents more than heat, it actually means the friction built up to create change and rebirth both in the body through our asana poses and in the mind through the “burning” we endure to bloom or grow spiritually and emotionally. This was the message I shared with my students last week on the mat.
As we warmed up with opening Sun Salutes and slowly began to build heat (tapas) in the body, we began to notice some of the tightness melting away and space being created for new flexibility to bloom and grow. And as we moved through a challenging standing sequence I shared that the fire, through its burning of organic matter, helps to return nutrients to the soil, becoming natural fertilizer for the plants and trees that remain while also promoting growth of new species of plants. We used this idea as we moved through our flow practice, we created friction and heat which promoted fresh flexibility and growth to occur both in the body and mind.
Off the mat, we have that same opportunity as we all experience this collective burning together. Just as certain trees shed their lower branches as they grow and have special types of bark that fall off easily during a fire so they can survive in order to grow more using the fertile soil created from the fire, we do the same thing. We learn how to manage and hold close what is dear to us so when the fire passes we can grow even stronger as a result of it.
In addition, just as a species of pine tree grows pinecones coated in such strong resin that only fire can release the seeds to perpetuate the species, in us, the same can happen. Often we need a powerful catalyst to grow into an even better version of ourselves. Typically it is locked away within us requiring a specific set of circumstances to unlock our true potential. Perhaps this is our time. Perhaps we will come away from our burning renewed and refreshed with a clear view and some collective wisdom we did not have before.
As we began to wind down our practice on the mat, I reminded my students to soften into the powerful physical benefits of the asana practice. As the heat and friction did its job, now it was time for the re-growth to occur not just in the body through rest, but in the mind as well.
As we closed out our practice in a final seated position I thanked my students for their hard work and dedication, for being willing to see the opportunities that can come from this challenging time, and to endure our collective burning together so we can emerge united with new growth, strength and wisdom on the other side. Namaste.