This morning in class at Mission Ashtanga in San Francisco, I overheard Devorah say to a student, “Conserve your energy. Don’t do more than what is asked in the pose, because a lot is being asked of you.” It struck me as such a wise morsel of advice. We have more than enough to attend to within each posture without adding additional pressures on ourselves. The smart approach is to strip it down to the essence of what needs doing, keep it simple, move from the ground up, isolate the “work” as economically as possible. Certainly, there are things to do within each posture. We must focus on steady, fluid breath; drishti, or soft but unwavering focused gaze; bandhas, or pulling up through the “locks” of the internal core; pressing feet (or hands, whatever is contacting the floor) firmly into the ground, in order to charge limbs with energy; and moving Prana, or life force, through the shape of the posture. Other than these tasks, there should be no extra “work” within the poses.
This is the challenge of Yoga. How do we exert energy without expending too much of it? How do we ride the line between work and surrender, activity and passivity? How do we remain focused, without getting distracted — by our own narrative of doubt or fear, our pain, or our energy of wanting to attain, which leads to too much effort, and too much “noise” in the pose? We can drown out this noise with the hypnotic soundtrack of our luxurious breath, supported by our bandhas, and held steady with our drishti. Then we will start to feel the calm of observation, acceptance, and surrender.
I grew up, like many of us, with the notion that I was only worthwhile when achieving something, striving to be “the best” and aiming to better my previous accomplishments. Maybe that’s why it’s taken me so many years to begin to learn the art of getting out of my own way, to learn that I don’t need to prove anything to anyone — not my parents, not my teachers, not my Facebook friends, not society or the world at large, and most importantly, not even myself. Each posture, each breath, is simply another opportunity to investigate bliss and healing. I’m starting to feel this more and more in my practice, and trying to remember that feeling, of freedom from pressure, off of my mat as well.
The practice is such a microcosm of our outer, “macro” life. The more I force and “effort” into a pose, the more it eludes me — the choppier my breath, the more discomfort. The more I let go, and find inner strength, strength deep inside that I didn’t know I had, the more my physical body learns to drape around that inner core strength. With life-giving breath feeding and fluidly flowing within me, I can indulge myself in the depth of the pose, finding utter stillness, steadiness and stability, until time stops, distilled in a powerful rush of serenity and peace. In that moment, I am rooted into the ground like an ancient oak tree, with new leaves sprouting out in every direction; new growth, reaching toward the sun.