May 21, 2010

Yoga Practice: Force vs. Surrender.

Finding Surrender.

I come to the mat, sit and breathe into myself.

The world slows as I slow, breath leading me deeper.

Deeper into what depends on the day. Deeper into stillness, or deeper into the seeking of it. Deeper into surrender, or deeper into forcing.

I move slowly into asana [yoga pose], and this leads me deeper still. Heartbeat and breath, I seek the deepening, the drop into sinew, muscles, bone, blood, cells.

When I become fully present in my body, I find myself in one of two places; force, or surrender.

On the easy days I glide from asana to asana, following the flow, relaxing into the release available where my body meets my breath. Muscles lengthening, I sink into the trust of knowing; knowing my body already knows how to find its own way into the center, into the moment, into the posture, into total peace and presence.

But some days I find myself coming present in force. Some days it’s a struggle to get to the mat, or the struggle comes in finding my breath, or stilling my mind, or taking the time to slow down. Sometimes the struggle comes in trusting the wisdom of my own body, its limits and potential.

Sometimes I come present to pain – knowing I have just forced past an edge. That I’m pushing myself too hard. That I’m pushing myself into resistance.

The more I force, the greater the discomfort.

Force is clinging, on a physical level. In asana yoga, as with sitting meditation, resistance arises.

In sitting, it is the clinging to ideas and the resistance to that clinging that leads to force, causing further resistance, which is attachment. I cannot attach to that which is not there. Resistance is a response to something that is there. A thought, an idea of how coming present is “supposed” to be, an action.

In sitting, sometimes it is inattention, or sometimes over-focus that pulls me from presence.

In asana yoga it is the same. Sometimes it is inattention to my physical self that leads to force. Sometimes I am thinking of my day, my kids, the pressures of life, and find myself carrying the stresses of daily life into my practice.

And sometimes it is over-focus on how the posture is “supposed” to be performed. Sometimes my desire to bring knee to nose, or face to shins, or to achieve a “perfect” half-pigeon over-rides my purpose in practicing asana yoga; to come present in my body, to allow my physical self to lead me deeper into peaceful presence.

All of it can shift in a moment. All it takes to find my way back to surrender, to presence and peace, is noticing that I am in resistance – that I am forcing instead of relaxing into the asana.

Force does not make practice more productive. Learning to lean into surrender is not about shying away from an intense practice. Learning to surrender, to trust the wisdom of the physical self, to pay attention to thresholds and edges, and in doing so to find the ability to stay gently at my edge is what draws my practice deeper.

Why fight my way into an asana, when relaxing into it produces a more satisfying result?

I find my neck over-reaching, a pinch spreading up into shoulders and back. And relax. In the relaxing, my neck releases that extra millimeter, bringing my asana that much closer to the posture I know I’m capable of.

As I awaken to struggle, I remind myself through simple words, thoughts that help me to get back to gentle presence, “I trust my body.”

And that trust brings me home.

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