Sweating your asana off is wonderful — but you should be conscious of why you’re doing it. Beyond the physical, yoga can help us in our resolve to live life in a way that feels right. The yamas (social contracts) and niyamas (personal observances) make up the moral and ethical foundation of our yoga practice.
Tapas is one of the niyamas; it means “heat.” We heat the body to cleanse it — but there’s more to it than that. Tapas also means that we build heat, so that we can burn away anything preventing us from living authentically and enthusiastically. We stoke the flame of that “inner yes,” so that we have the energy to devote ourselves to our practice, even on days we’d rather stay in bed.
The seven poses below are guaranteed to help you create that fire in your belly, so that you can show up for yourself — and all the people in your life — with everything you’ve got.
1. Chaturanga Push-Up Crunches
Start in Plank Pose, and lift your right leg 2 inches. Inhale once, and when you exhale, take Chaturanga with your right leg off the floor. Inhale as you move back to plank, and when you exhale, draw your right knee to your nose, keeping your shoulders over your wrists.
Inhaling, extend the right leg; exhaling, lower to Chaturanga. Inhale back up to plank; exhale, knee to the nose. Repeat three to five times before stepping the right foot forward to lunge. Repeat on the left side.
Where you'll feel it: core, upper body
2. Boat Pose (Navasana)
Sit on your mat with your legs extended straight out in front of you. Place your hands a little behind your hips, with fingers pointing forward. Lengthen your spine, and lean back slightly, gently dipping your chin toward your sternum. Make sure you don’t feel any rounding in the lower back. Exhale, bend your knees, and lift your legs so that your shins are parallel to the floor. Breathe.
If you feel comfortable, extend the arms forward at shoulder height with your palms facing each other. Gently draw in the navel as you breathe deeply.
Where you'll feel it: rectus abdominis ("six-pack"), erector spinae muscles of the back, hip flexors
3. Half Boat Pose (Ardha Navasana)
If you feel strong in Boat Pose, you can lower yourself into Half Boat Pose (Ardha Navasana). The spine is long; the inner thighs spin toward the floor. Draw in the navel and front ribs, and continue to gently dip the chin toward the sternum. Breathe.
If you feel very strong in both poses, you can do “Boat Pose sit-ups,” inhaling as you lower yourself into Half Boat Pose, exhaling as you lift yourself into Boat Pose.
Where you'll feel it: rectus abdominis ("six-pack")
4. Dolphin Plank Pose (Makara Adho Mukha Svanasana)
Start on your hands and knees, and put your forearms on the floor shoulder distance apart. Tuck the toes, and lift your knees off the mat as you come into Dolphin Pose, and then walk your feet back until your tailbone is at the same height as your shoulder blades.
Firm the shoulder blades into the back, draw your navel up, lengthen your tailbone toward your heels, lift the tops of your thighs, and spin your inner thighs toward the sky. Gaze between your hands at one point, and breathe. If it feels like too much, simply do the pose with your knees on the mat.
Where you'll feel it: core, shoulders, arms, chest, glutes, hamstrings, calves, feet
5. Side Plank Pose (Vasisthasana)
From downward-facing dog, shift to the outer edge of your right foot. Stack the left foot on top of the right, and bring the left hand to the left hip. Make sure your right hand is just slightly forward of the right shoulder. Create a diagonal line from the outer edge of the left foot, through the crown of the head. Draw in your navel as you lengthen your tailbone toward your heels. Extend your left arm skyward.
If this feels like too much on your wrist, step your left foot forward halfway between your right foot and right hand, and turn your left toes to the left. Breathe.
Where you'll feel it: arms, core, legs, wrists
Start in a runner's lunge with your right foot forward. Come up to your fingertips. Inhale, and when you exhale, throw up your hips and switch sides, putting your left foot where your right foot was, and vice versa.
Repeat three to five times depending on your energy level and your desire to build heat.
Where you'll feel it: core, hip flexors, quadriceps, calves, feet
7. L-Pose or Hollow-Back (Pincha Mayurasana)
Inversions build a lot of heat, and they train us to look at things from different perspectives. If you’re new to such poses, or you want to both strengthen and open your upper back and shoulders, the L-Pose is for you (you can check it out at the very beginning of this article). Start in downward-facing dog with your heels up against the wall. Make sure your hands are shoulder-distance apart, and the creases of your wrists are parallel to the front edge of your mat. Press your palms flat, inhale, and as you exhale, walk your legs up the wall until they’re parallel to the floor. Draw in the navel, and set it up so your wrists, shoulders, and hips are in line. Breathe.
For the hollow-back, face the wall as you would if you were setting up for a handstand. Plant your hands firmly onto the ground and kick your feet up into a handstand, supported by the wall. Once you feel secure in your handstand, draw in the navel, and slowly bring your butt back toward the wall. Make sure you’re hugging the shoulder blades on the back and your triceps are wrapping toward each other. If you feel comfortable, bend one leg for three to five breaths, then switch sides.
Always do child’s pose after an inversion, as all the blood will rush to your head, and standing up quickly might make you feel light-headed.
Where you'll feel it: shoulders, upper back, wrists
Don’t ever sacrifice your breath or a calm, compassionate state of mind for a pose. The poses will come over time. The best way to build inner strength is to honor the truth of what you’re feeling, and to respond with honesty. That’s the kind of strength and discipline that will serve you in the rest of your life, too. Enjoy the tapas!
Photo Credit: Joshua Nelson for mindbodygreen