Serious yoga students can easily get caught up in everything related to doing yoga. Getting the right mat and yoga clothes, finding the best studio and teacher and working hard on the poses in every class and at home. With everything you put into doing yoga, make sure that you are also staying receptive to the things that yoga will do for you.
Making the Effort Effortless
Practicing diligently on a regular basis, daily if possible, is part of our devotion to yoga. We are aware of many benefits of yoga and that ongoing effort is required to achieve them. It’s easy to focus on this physical effort to the point where physical accomplishments in poses becomes the goal of our practice. In striving to achieve these goals we may end up up working too hard in both our overall practice and, in the moment, on individual poses.
One of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali speaks to perfection in asana. It is reached when the effort to perform the asana becomes effortless. If we focus too much on the effort in the poses, we miss the chance for it to become effortless. We miss the chance to receive what yoga offers for our mental and emotional state.
Becoming Receptive in Yoga
If the mind is truly aware and absorbed in the practice of an asana, it notices more than the muscular actions that are underway. There is equal awareness of the breath and of the mental state during the pose. We notice that if the body is trying too hard, the breath becomes forced or uneven; the mind becomes agitated or anxious. Parts of the body not directly involved in the pose, the eyes and mouth, for example, become hard or tense. These are all signs of “doing” too much in asana.
Practice ways of doing the same amount with less effort. Move into a pose on the exhalation of a calm and relaxed breath. See that the eyes and mouth stay soft as you, perhaps, exhale deeper into the pose. With the mind still calm, observe the breath and the state of the body. Chances are, you have moved as deeply into the pose as usual, but it may feel like there is less effort involved. Stay in the pose as long as the breath and mind can stay in a relaxed state.
Moving some of the focus away from the physical side of yoga - the “doing” part - is one way to receive more benefits from yoga. The physical actions are not lessened; the body still becomes stronger and more flexible, but the mind and emotional state are rewarded, too. This may even serve to enhance the physical benefits. All in all, we receive more by doing the same amount, but less aggressively, with less effort.