One thing I’m sure we all find easier is to engage muscles – to do something active like a posture such as downward dog - than to relax or meditate. While we can be itching to work out on the mat, we can then find it hard to give ourselves even 5 minutes of relaxation,
One of the earliest written records on the subject of yoga are attributed to the Indian philosopher Patanjali. He is thought to have compiled around 200 very short and cryptic sutras (or verses) written in Sanskrit around 400 CE. These probably drew on even earlier writings. The sutras contain advice on how to prepare for meditation through the practice of yoga asana, (or “seat” or postures). One sutra refers to the need for balance between “steadiness” or effort (sthira) and relaxation or “ease” (sukha).
Finding this balance in yoga— or indeed in whatever situation life brings—is a core foundation of yoga.
But, especially in the many dynamic yoga classes that are popular in the West, the focus on sthira tends to dominate. This intense kind of effort, discipline, and even competitive pushing of the body can tip the scales too far in our struggle for balance. It’s much easier to engage and employ effort, and feel like we’re “doing something”, or getting a good stretch or work out, rather than let ourselves “do nothing”.
Effort and the discipline of sthira allows us to be steady and strong in a posture, but we can really reap the benefits when we subsequently let go and slide into the ease of sukha. By practising regularly and often over time, this balance can bring an improved flow of energy, and bring with it greater clarity and stillness of mind. This “moving into stillness” is one of the many definitions of yoga you may come across.
How to find ease in your practice
In last week’s class we practised some stronger postures based around using the core muscles. So, next time you do some yoga at home (after a stretch and warm up, perhaps repeating some of the core work we did in class this week, such as pelvic curls on the floor, leg raises, leg extension with cat/cow, plank, and boat) be sure to follow effort with rest, asking yourself “where can I relax and find ease?” Scan the body and notice where you’re clenching, forcing, or tightening muscles, or where you might be lopsided or favouring one joint over the other. Focus in softening the neck, shoulders, and belly, example: even simply releasing the jaw or tongue can have a profound effect on relaxing the entire body.
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