Finding the Balance Between Effort and Ease
Part of entering into an intelligent yoga practice is to shift the judgements or opinions generated from the mind about what makes a pose “correct” or “good”. Instead of letting these thoughts lead your practice, consider letting the information - particularly the sensations - arising from the body be your primary guide. The mind will still get involved, but ask it to take a back seat and allow the physical body to take the wheel. The mind has imprinted where your body tends to move in each posture. It has all kinds of ideas about how it is supposed to look and how deep you should be going. So when you step into triangle, the mind says, “Oh, I’ve been here and this is where I place my hands and my feet”. We often allow the mind to direct us, regardless of the physical sensations arising.
If we pay deeper attention to the sensations in the body, we might notice that over time, we’ve increased the strength and range of motion in that front leg, and in fact we are now using very little muscular energy and experiencing minimal sensation. The pose is all ease, no effort. On the other hand, we may notice that the hamstring is a little tight today and there is more sensation than usual. As a result, we’ve lost the softness of the pose. We are over-efforting and building tension. The pose is all effort, no ease.
One way to work with this balancing is to consider asking yourself these three questions next time you are in a pose.
Where do I notice sensation?
How do I experience my breath?
Do I feel a balance between effort and ease?
Let’s flush this out a little.
Imagine yourself moving into side angle pose (parsvokonasana).
1. Where do I notice sensation?
Once you arrive, take a scan through the whole body and notice where there is sensation. Is the amount of sensation appropriate? Can you feel the muscles in the legs engaged and working without feeling overly fatigued? Can you feel the muscles between the ribs along the side body lengthening? Is there tension in the neck? Respond to all of this feedback by making needed adjustments.
2. How do I experience my breath?
Is the breath satisfying? Are you able to breath evenly? Is the breath shallow or full? Is it most accessible in the belly or the chest?
3. Do I feel a balance between effort and ease?
A shallow breath or a feeling of rigidity in the body may be an indication that there is too much effort. Minimal sensation or a feeling of lethargy may be an indication that there is too much ease. Preference the breath over the depth of the pose. In other words, let your breath inform the pose.
Noticing and exploring the sensations in the body is called interoception. It helps bring us into deeper awareness so that we can respond by making necessary adjustments moment to moment. It protects us from injury, deepens our relationship with our bodies and guides us in the balance between effort and ease.
This week, try to let your physical body inform your movement. In other words, even if the mind directs you towards more intense poses, take a deep breath and ask yourself what the best option is for your physical body. Practice any postures you like but remember that the intention behind this practice is to listen to the body and respond to what you hear.