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Mary E. Vandenack: Tapas • Energy of Change

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Tapas is the third niyama (observance) of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. The niyamas describe a path to personal freedom through awareness. Tapas is Sanskrit for “heat” and describes the focused, constant, intense commitment necessary to overcome impediments that keep us from living in a state of mental peacefulness.



Tapas is a willingness to do whatever it takes to achieve transformation, whether it be to lose weight, make a career change or improve a relationship. Affecting change requires consistency. This might mean that you forgive your child for the 10,000th time or you rejoin a weight control program. If you give up on yourself, the outcome is clear. If you persist, transformation can occur.


I recently heard someone say he was “too old to change.” There is no such thing. If you cannot change, it is only because you are unwilling to do so. Age is not a factor. As a yoga teacher, I can attest to observing transformation in people of all ages. I have a friend who turns 60 this fall and I’ve observed him overcome a lifetime of behavior strewn with obstacles along the way. I have observed a 63-year-old woman virtually remake her body… and her perspective about it. The keys to transformation are awareness, willingness, persistence and consistency.


Cutting through distractions is a key to focus and there are all kinds of ready distractions in today’s society. A significant distraction for many comes in the form of e-mail, texting and social media.

I recently worked with a woman who was trying to get to the next level in her career. She showed up every day and she worked the entire day. She wasn’t one of those dallying in the break room or hanging in the doorways of others. In reviewing the use of her time, we discovered that she started each day answering e-mail, a process that created a chain reaction that continued all day long. She never turned off her e-mail and was constantly distracted. She had no ability to focus attention on projects that would get her boss’s attention. When she changed her approach and started the day with blocks of time for focus and thinking, her efforts quickly got the attention of the boss.


Do you know anyone who is a constant frenzy of emotional frittering? The frenzied mind lacks focus and is filled with such thoughts as “If only I had done this,” or “If only he or she would listen to me” and “If only I had gone to Harvard.” Use focus to shift from the frenzy. Find yourself in the present moment, no matter what exists in that moment.

When we concentrate the tremendous psycho-physical energies that are within us and direct them to a problem, clarity arises and a resolution comes easier. Through tapas comes every type of greatness and excellence.


Achieving transformation through tapas requires selfawareness. Many of us avoid introspection. We might look in the mirror to make sure our hair is just so, but we avoid looking beyond… to who we really are.

In yoga we teach awareness. Close your eyes. Take deep breaths. Instead of noticing everything about you, notice who is noticing. Then connect to the notice because the “noticer” is you.


Recently I had the opportunity to spend some time visiting a home where mostly elder people were undergoing rehabilitation for knee and hip replacements and similar surgeries. For those individuals, putting a foot on the floor or climbing a stair again were significant achievements. Watching that reminded me that achievement is all a matter of where we are at a given moment in our journey.

If we define and measure achievement in what we perceive to be the expectations others, we are slaves to the standards of others. If we instead define greatness in accordance with the terms of our life experience, we can attain a sense of personal freedom, gratitude and appreciation for our existence.


Mary E. Vandenack, while a lawyer by profession, has studied extensively in mind/body areas of fitness and wellness. She is Yoga Alliance RYT-200, Power Pilates certified, ACE certified and has completed her Stott Pilates comprehensive studies, as well as a variety of work in nutriition.

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