We’re trying too hard.
All of us, bumbling along the same path and all of us, usually making things more difficult than they need to be.
Not always, though. Oh so suddenly, it clicks. We realize we don’t have to care what “they” think and that not all the events of our life have grand, epic meaning, but that some of them — the choicest that we will never forget — absolutely do.
The result of trying so hard is feeling like we’ll never arrive. And when we feel like we’ll never arrive, we begin to wonder why we even try to begin with. Listless, restless and wanting to rewrite that last sentence without ending in a preposition, we wonder who made the rules about prepositions, anyway.
Most of us aren’t aware that we can seek refuge within ourselves — until we give in.
First, the body
Our yoga mats are a very revealing place for those of us prone to over effort.
When I first started practicing yoga I was all about the body, largely because to advance into Level 2 and 3, I was required to take so many classes of Level 1.
This made sense to my orderly, left-brained experience of life and I took to it faster than my papillon scarfing a kale stick. I was all about coercing my body into hurt-so-good positions and trying to get my Triangle to look more Triangular than oblong and my core strong enough not to fail (every gosh darn time) in Chaturanga Dandasana.
I dutifully listened to the eight-limbed path explanations and (seemingly) understood my peon-like status on the yoga totem pole. Yoga, it seemed, was all about earning enlightenment.
And because my then-depressed brain was more interested in trying to simply feel not depressed, let alone enlightened, it focused first on touching my toes.
I was all effort, though my teacher talked frequently about yield. My brain didn’t get the memo until Savasana.
It wasn’t until year two when I began practicing in vinyasa style that I understood the effortlessness of yoga and the balance that then follows in one’s life.
Let yourself yield
Too many of us focus solely on effort and don’t give enough attention to yield.
When you actively go to the place where your arms shake and your breath chops the air, you’re pushing your boundaries. Good, great. But when you go to the body’s boundary and you resist the chop with loud, inner-echoey breathing, you’re overcoming them.
It sounds too simple. You mean to say that all I have to do is breathe and I won’t end up “trying” myself out? I was as surprised as you.
On and off the mat, don’t just breathe shallow from the chest, but whole body toe-to-soul. This is equally true for the yoga pose you’re scared to try and the confrontation you’re afraid to have.
Boundaries and barriers seem so much bigger than they are until we butt right up against them and let them pass.
Notice how I didn’t say “make them move.”
Turns out, yoga’s not about earning enlightenment or leveling up. Instead, breathe through your boundaries to realize you’re always arriving.
Try it: Chaturanga Dandasana, Four-Limbed Staff Pose
While you hold your own in Chaturanga don’t hold your breath. Take this pose as an opportunity to deeply exhale as you descend.
Not quite there yet? Drop your knees to the mat, then practice descending the upper body. Don’t force it until you can breathe the whole way.
- From Plank Pose, lift your navel toward your spine and lengthen your tailbone toward your heels. Firm the shoulder blades together on the back. Lean slightly forward onto the toes and keep your palms wide and planted.
- Exhale and bend at the elbows, keeping them close to the side bodies as you lower half way down until your upper arms come parallel to the mat. Keep the neck long and the shoulders away from the ears. To protect the rotator cuff, ensure the tops of the upper arms lift up, instead of dipping or curving down toward the mat. Engage again through the navel to keep the low back lifted.
- Traditionally, the next pose practiced after Chaturanga Dandasana is Upward Facing Dog. Inhale and sweep into this pose, or lower yourself all the way to the mat on the same exhale. Press your hips and thighs high into Downward Facing Dog before practicing the pose again.