Balancing Effort & Ease
Over the years, my physical yoga practice has developed a much deeper sense of ease. This is not to say that all of the postures I practice are "easy," but that each one is most valuable if it is steady and filled with ease. It has taken me many years to appreciate this ease and create more balance within my life and asana (posture) practice. I've come to understand that yoga asana is a way to help us peel back the layers and fully experience what's going on inside.
I was surprised to learn that Patanjali describes asana only once in the ancient yoga sutras. He doesn't talk about alignment, loose hamstrings, or achieving headstand. Sutra 2.46 simply says, "Sthira Sukham Asanam."
sthira = strong; steady; stable; effort; motionless
sukham = comfortable; ease-filled; happy; light; relaxed
āsanam = asana; posture; physical practice
To put it simply: yoga asana is a balance between effort and ease. The yoga postures teach us how to make wise choices that will help us to move toward homeostasis. We will often find that balance requires us to move toward the opposite of our usual habits and comfort zones. For many of us, this means learning how to YIELD.
When I began yoga practice, I liked to move quickly from one posture to the next because my comfort with exerting effort outweighed my comfort to surrender. If I was in a long-held posture, I would often (subconsciously) compensate my boredom or discomfort by trying harder, unnecessarily and to my detriment. Though I didn't think it at the time, my breath was effortful and strained, my mind always reaching ahead toward the next movement, and my body was often left feeling depleted.
My patterns in life were to push and achieve all things better, faster, more efficiently (macrocosm)....so all of these patterns were present in my asana (microcosm) as well.
It's difficult to admit this to myself, even now. But I practiced with excess effort for SO long that it understandably took me a long time to even realize it. Samskara (ingrained habits) are often subconscious and they run deep throughout every layer of our being. This realization was a huge part of my journey and it's why I'm SO big on teaching and practicing self-care now.
So the question for many of us becomes: how can we incorporate more ease (sukham) into our practice? Both on and off the mat, we're often used to pushing toward success, multitasking, or perfecting. Let's move toward making minute adjustments, refining, and quieting from the inside out. Finding sukham takes LESS effort, but more awareness...so let's pay attention today.