Do you remember your first yoga class? Did it take a bit of will and discipline to enroll in the class or to put down your mat? Perhaps this is why “tapas” is the first element of the Yoga of action (2.1) described by Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras*. Loosely translated, tapas is the willpower and discipline we all need to open the body, extend tired muscles, expand our chest, and most importantly to stay with the practice. Yet, if this effort were the only part of one’s yoga, we would burn out quickly! As we stick with tapas we must take on another aspect of yoga, to release and pause – right in the middle of the effort! As we exert our muscles and quiet our mind, the poses we seek, will only bloom if we can relax into them. It seems contradictory in many ways, how can we both be effortful and relaxed? This is the mystery itself, the complexity of yoga.
How can each of us find this “effortless” effort in our lives, and in our practice? In my own practice for example, as I reach for my toes and feel my back muscles “screaming”, the work is to listen to the voice inside my head or of my teacher to stretch my limbs to their full potential, while also recognizing that it is at this point that I must let go. As I learn to observe the sensations and identify the moment where I just need to exhale, I become the pose inside and out. For Yoga itself is not only about the external beauty or aesthetics of the pose, but also it is the subtle internal process of recognizing that now is the moment to accept, relax and yet maintain the effort moving forward. It does not mean that I stop my effort, rather, like a waterfall, effort washes over me and takes my pose to a point beyond the physical picture, and to a beautiful place that exists within me and yet beyond me. That elusive state might last a second […]