Mindful awareness

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Comfort Balanced with Effort

Yoga practice is based on philosophy outlined in the Yoga Sutras, organized as poetic verses written in the 2nd century CE. Only a few of the 196 verses refer to the physical practice of asanas (poses) even though most Americans consider that the poses define the practice. Sutra number 2.46 does refer specifically to asanas, and even this message extends beyond the mat into our lives in the real world. This sutra has been translated to mean “It is essential that the posture be steady and comfortable”.  Any pose, then, should be performed in a manner that is challenging, yet relaxed in some way.

A pose as simple as sukhasana (easy sitting pose) has components of comfort and effort. One doesn’t sit rigidly in this pose as they begin a sequence or transition and rest between poses. There is more ease and comfort than rigidity. At the same time, the pose isn’t slouchy. The spine is erect and the spine is energized. The person in this pose is awake and alert.

The same duality applies to physically challenging poses such as natarajasana (dancer pose). This pose requires the person stand on one foot while holding the other leg behind the back with one arm and pressing into a bow shape with the back. This is challenging for balance, flexibility, and strength but it is also challenging to find comfort amidst all the effort. So many muscles must generate force to practice this pose. But many other muscles do not need to work. The jaw doesn’t need to lock and the teeth don’t need to clench. It is actually easier to balance if the toes don’t claw. Pulling the leg up too strongly will hike the pelvis and change the pose. So with all the effort of the pose, there will still be some ease and comfort.

This delicate balance between being alert yet relaxed occurs in our daily lives just as it does in asanas. We need to stay alert when we drive (and not use a phone – even with a hands-free device but I’ll save that lecture for another time) but we also need to have a certain amount of ease so that we can respond to unexpected obstacles and change course quickly if necessary. It requires some effort and control to chop vegetables yet there too, we need some ease as we do; we don’t use every arm muscle to dice a carrot. This balance extends to our relationships where we learn how much we need to give and how much to take in each one just as we learn which “battles to choose” with employees, spouses, and children.

More and more I find my life off my mat reflecting my yoga practice. I look to balance effort with comfort. I remind myself to back off when I push hard or to push when someone is taking advantage of me. This is just how a beautiful life should be lived: steady, comfortably, and in balance.

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