Read the word ‘tapas’ and patatas bravas and other little Spanish culinary delights come to mind. While I love tapas as much as the next person, recently I’ve discovered another type of tapas that has little to do with yummy paella.

It was over a year ago I read in Michael Stone’s The Inner Tradition of Yoga about the term ‘tapas’, only to think “and what?” Fast forward a year, and the penny’s finally dropped. Stone describes the work of tapas as ‘the cultivation of skills that allow us to be present in the here and now whatever is occurring, whether positive, negative, or neutral’.

The penny dropping moment came during my yoga practice where my mind was saying over and over “Can we stop now, I’m bored?” Rather than giving-in, I carried on until the little devil in my head had been silenced by my unwillingness to play ball and it was then I realised I was practising ‘tapas’.

In yoga, ‘tapas’ is defined as staying in the tension of opposites that are trying to pull us in different directions. At opposing ends is aversion and clinging, and depending on the experience, we try to maintain something pleasurable or runaway from that which causes unpleasant feelings.

Far from being a choice, our reaction to a situation is a habit that has been refined since childhood. We only have to think of a screaming child in a supermarket who is refused sweets to see where our current reactions stem, only we’ve modified our outward display of satisfaction/dissatisfaction to become more socially and age appropriate.

Tapas is actively working in us all whenever we roll out the mat and begin practice despite the lure of the comfortable sofa. Staying with tight hamstrings in downward dog and unwilling hips in Marichyasana C proves to us each and every time that we can stay with discomfort as we know it will pass. And patiently embracing the impermanent nature of our feelings and sensations is the essence of tapas.

The technique of yoga slowly breaks our habitual reactions and allows us, as Stone says ‘to hold ourselves in the fire of habit until we burn away that which averts the heat of change.’ So when I’m in Supta Kurmasana and I hear the little devil protesting, or I’m stood in a queue that’s insistent on making me late, I remind myself to accept and practice tapas. Likewise, I love Savasana on a hot summers day, but accept that all things come to an end thus practice tapas.

Neuroscientists have proven that our brains are not hard-wired as it was once believed, and not reacting in habitual ways helps to create new patterns of being and responding. So when you’re next in class and are confronted with a challenging posture, or you’re on a delayed train, this is your moment to practice tapas until the opposites lose their pull, and you truly become present in the moment.

I’m beginning to discover that it is these moments of patience that take us away from the same old reactions, and open up opportunities and achievements we once deemed impossible no matter how big or small.

Enjoy your tapas.

Yoga Manchester will be hosting author, psychotherapist and yoga teacher Michael Stone in October 2013. For more details, click here.

Charlene McAuley teaches the Monday Sports Yoga class and the monthly beginners courses starting in September.


Had a tapas moment you fancy sharing?

We’d love to hear about it – add your Tapas moment in the comments section below.

Charlene McAuley