Tapas: Voluntary Self-Change


September is one of my favorite times of the year. It’s the month I moved to Oregon, 19 years ago. I moved here with hope, optimism, and excitement as I started my third year in college after transferring from the University of Nebraska. One of the most exciting things to me, as a transfer student to Oregon State University, was the yoga class that I was signed up for through OSU. In Nebraska in 2000, yoga wasn’t a thing yet. We didn’t have exposure to these practices in the way that we do now. We didn’t have Instagram and Facebook and influencers showing us how to do yoga in gorgeous places. I was lucky to start my yoga journey with someone who was well-versed in yoga philosophy and movement and knew what they were doing. Someone who had the grace and good humor to teach college students who are likely not super focused on leading a yogic lifestyle. This initial exposure to yoga changed me in unexpected ways and helped set me on the path I’m on today. 

Each September I think about my move to Oregon and my very first yoga classes. I am reminded of the discipline of the school year and how important it is to engage in learning and growing and making oneself the best iteration of yourself that you can be.

September reminds me that the process of learning and growing is never over, and that to continue to change and grow we continually engage in the difficulty of life and the challenges that come with being alive in this world. It reminds me of the yoga principle of Tapas.

Tapas, the third Niyama (observance), is defined as our determined effort to become someone of character and strength. Tapas is a process of voluntary self-limitation and self-challenge and means “heat” or “glow”. The practice of tapas asks us to be disciplined enough to walk through the fire in order to achieve purity. It means staying disciplined enough to engage with the difficulty of life rather than taking the easy route. Fall is an excellent time to examine our lives and our reactions and cut away the ones that don’t help us become better humans.

As we move into the more structured time of the fall, we can set in place goals that enable us to choose actions of body, speech and mind that are uplifting rather than avoiding.

Think about how you react when something challenging happens in your life. Do you turn toward the easy comforts of food,

drink, and whatever is popular on Netflix? Or do you engage with the challenge and move through it rather than stick your head in the sand and ignore the difficulty? By moving through rather than around we are like a rough rock tumbling in a rock polisher. Over time, the friction wears us into something shiny and beautiful. If we avoid the discomfort by numbing ourselves to whatever is difficult, we don’t grow. 

Tapas is also about controlling impulses. It begins with denying ourselves a particular desire – instead of instant gratification we choose postponement. As we get used to not satisfying our basic desires we can increasingly gain control over our impulses. Growing and self-denial need not necessarily be negative. The denial of our impulses and desires allows for space to practice austerity of body, speech and mind. We are able to be better at not harming others, at being kind and truthful and gentle. We are able to be less bound by our tendencies toward feeding ourselves, body and mind and spirit, with the things that don’t truly serve us. Through this cultivation of ourselves, we can be a source of warmth, comfort and strength for others. And it’s through this cultivation that we can become better equipped to handle the challenges that life throws our way and come out better for it. 

Ways you can practice tapas in your life: 

  • Try changing a pattern or a habit. Choose a practice of nourished eating, meditation, contemplation or something else that impacts the quality of your essence. 
  • Remember times in your life that were hard and how you were shaped by these hard times. Notice other times where you checked out and tried to avoid difficulty. 
  • Pay attention to your daily choices. Are you making choices that build strength and character or choices that are indulgent and numbing you from your life? 
  • Get up early and spend the time cultivating yourself through yoga asana, meditation, walking or journaling. 
  • Find support in this process. Do you surround yourself with like-minded people who are also engaged in the process of becoming better humans? Talk with others about your struggles and triumphs. 
  • Be open to learning and growing. 

Showing up for regular yoga asana practice can be an act of tapas. As yoga teachers, the discipline it takes to continually engage with these practices is sometimes hard for us, too. We appreciate your continued commitment to and engagement with these movement practices. Thank you for practicing yoga, and thank you for practicing yoga with us. We look forward to seeing you on the mat soon.


Amanda and the WW yoga team

For updated information on our public classes, check out our class schedule here.

Interested in learning more about the yamas, niyamas, pranayama, movement and your body? Check out our other blog articles. 


Written by Amanda Barp

Amanda Barp is co-founder of Watershed Wellness, a licensed massage therapist with 10+ years experience, a registered yoga teacher with a passion for learning and teaching about the human body & how to feel at home in it.