We talk a lot about “right effort” in yoga, but it took me a long time to really get what it means.
Did you know In the Yoga sutras of Patanjali there are 3 verses about asana (physical shapes)?
Lets dive into what right effort means in the physical shapes in yoga. How that relates to us in the real world we live in, not on our cosy yoga mat.
Also a short sequence you can explore too…
Sthira-sukham asanam — Yoga Sutras 2.24
Steady comfortable posture.
This well-known yoga sutra points out two naturally opposing but equally powerful forces; sthira and sukha. Sthira means steady and alert—active and strong. Sukha means comfortable and soft—joyful and open. It benefits us to notice the amount of effort and ease in asana practice and daily life. Too much sthira, and over gripping and tension are present. Too much sukha, and there is lack of stability and grounding. When both forces are in harmony, equanimity is born. This has a similar ethos to the DAO, more commonly known as the Yin Yang image in ancient Chinese philosophy.
At first in my early yoga classes I was like a limp fish and certainly had not enough effort, I remember my first yoga teacher saying “feel the pose before you get into it,” and I couldn’t get to grips with this? feel what? I imagined myself getting into the pose but I felt nothing physically. The subtle body was something i’d never felt before, I now know its easier in the beginning to feel a big movement for example rather than the subtle pulse of my cardiovascular flow. Fear not, it may be a 10 yr project, or maybe a lifetime, but we gotta be cool with this.
Sukha means ease and calm
Sukha involves gentleness and calm. A posture will feel joyful, open, and light. Sukha is more subtle, though equally powerful. Through conscious surrender and smooth calm breathing, time on the mat becomes sacred. Practice shifts further inward and becomes more of a moving meditation. Notice the amount of ease as you practice.
Too much ease in practice? Try these tips to add more stability:
• Deepen, and increase the sound, of your breathing
• Engage bandhas (specifically uddhiyana and mula bandhas)
• Focus your drishti like a laser beam
• Engage and activate muscles, e.g. lifting your toes to engage your quads
Then several years later that flipped and I was too aggressive on myself and resulted in injuring my back to the point where I would hobble out of bed and still do 3 hrs of yoga practice daily not taking care of my back because I didn’t know how to. I was driven by my own ego and fear.
It mirrored the way that we are taught to be successful. It certainly mirrored how I was at that point in my career.
Sthira means steady and alert
Sthira refers to steadiness, firmness, and stability. Yoga postures require it. A posture needs to be steady and strong to maintain a safe practice. Though too much sthira leads to gripping and unnecessary struggle. Too much effort can also be present in the mind. Most often we think "struggle" before we feel "struggle". Notice how much sthira is present when you practice.
Too much effort in practice?
I Now realise its a negotiable thing pose by pose . I’m checking in with myself when I’m in each shape moment by moment.
Try these tips to add more ease:
• Slow down and smooth your breathing
• Relax your jaw, tongue and face
• Soften your drishti (gaze) and forehead
• Have an easy and lighthearted attitude
But all too often, we “unseat” our inner ease with a lack of bodily awareness and an untrained mind. This constricts our inner space and makes us small-minded. On the physical level, we experience this as an inability to breathe and to move freely. Tension settles in our shoulders, neck, pelvis, lower back, and deeper in the organs—and the mind recoils from the discomfort.
Yoga is the middle way. It means neither acquisition nor denial, neither ego-inflation nor meekness, neither domination nor submission. So how do we, as yoga practitioners, find the elusive balance of the middle way in our in our lives?
STHIRA AND SUKHA IN DAILY LIFE
As a society we tend toward too much sthira. Days are often in a constant state of doing. How can we counterbalance and incorporate more sukha into our daily life? Give these a try:
—Limit Use of Media
TV, ipad, smart phone and social media all quickly become over-stimulating. Set a time limit. When time is up, turn screens off.
—Take a Media Break
Unplug from technology for a day, or more if you can. Reset in nature. Enjoy a walk or hike outdoors.
—Take Time and Care While Eating
What we eat is equally important to how we eat. Slow down and enjoy meals uninterrupted. Pause a moment in gratitude before enjoying food.
When stressed, the breath is irregular. Calm your breath and mind-body will follow. Elongate exhales. When anxious, inhalations are emphasized and exhalations are short.
Prioritize time to rest. Create space to soften. An ideal time is before bed. Enjoy a calming treat; warm bath, cup of tea, meditation, yoga nidra, or simply close your eyes and follow your breath.
—Set a Morning Intension
Begin your day with gratitude. Set your mind on the good in your life. Make a decision at the start of the day to keep an easy going attitude... smiling also works. :) Start Feeling
In my sessions I guide students toward your own subtle body where life is lived according to feelings inside, this is called interoception. Before my yoga training I can surely say I have lived almost half a lifetime of not feeling what was going on inside me!
Feeling takes us into ourselves, forcing takes us away.
When we want results, we push to make them happen. The moment we start to push, we are no longer aware of the effect this action is having on us or on our nervous system. Force is the opposite of feeling. When we force, we cannot feel. When we feel, we cannot force. See if you can try to be attuned to your thoughts, words, and deeds, making them all come from feeling. Forcing is yang—it raises blood pressure, makes a person angry, and creates heart problems. Feeling is yin—it makes a person reflective, calm, and able to understand life.
If you wish to explore right effort in yoga join me in my sessions.
You can also practice this short sequence focusing on your breath and any feelings that you may sense inside.
Remember that true yoga is not a competition with anyone else, not even with one's self. Notice that when we feel and create a small movement, it is far better for our nervous system than when we force and create a big movement.