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November 23, 2013

When Opposites Attract: Finding Effort & Ease in Asana. ~ Conny Lechner

There is always this guy, about 5 inches next to me, on his fancy yoga mat, with his tight yoga pants.

Every Wednesday morning and sometimes on Fridays.

We come to the point in our class when we should go into handstand, and every time, when I struggle to stay in my handstand with stability, I fall over and I glance at him.

With ease and lightness, he is going from his handstand to his forearm stand, then to Scorpion, back to forearm stand and then, sometimes, into Crane.

I remain sitting and watching him.

Then we continue with Setu Bandhasana.

That is always my time to shine, and to show him what I can do with my body.

I love back bends; I am one of those people who can go quite deep into a back bend. I love to stay there for minutes, breathing deeply, before I come back up into Samasthiti, with no effort, only a smile on my face—and an attached mind.

It’s easy to get lost in an ego driven practice when we don’t practice with awareness and honesty.

From time to time, it is important to remember not to get attached to the asanas during our practice. The human body is impermanent; therefore, performing hundreds of fancy postures are of little use by themselves. They only serve a purpose if done in the right context and with the right mind set. They become an obstacle if they are engaged to boost our ego. So, checking how we approach our asanas and our practice is necessary, now and then, so that we don’t get lost.

Patanjali writes in the second Chapter of the Yoga Sutras that a posture must have two qualities: firmness and ease.

Firmness, which is inner strength, and ease, which is relaxation.

He also says that the postures only become asanas when they can be held comfortably. Before that, they are only attempts at yoga asana.

I came across the 46th Sutra a few days ago when I was preparing myself for the lesson that I would help to teach at a Yoga Teacher Training.  I thought about my own practice and my overall approach to my practice.

This Sutra reminded me of two pictures:

1) Holding a bar of soap in the shower.if we hold it too tight, and we squeeze it, the soap will slip out of our hands. On the other hand, if we hold it too loosely, it will slip out, as well. Holding a bar of soap in the balance of firmness and ease makes it possible, or comfortable, to wash our hands.

2) Shooting a bow and an arrow. If we overstretch the bow, the bow is going to break. But if we hold the arrow too loosely, there is no way to shoot the arrow.

It´s the balance, or the middle way, which makes it possible to shoot the arrow.

Why is a balance of firmness and ease important in our practice?

If we focus mainly on getting strong, challenging our body to its limits, our muscles will contract without cease. If we practice only out of firmness, our gaze automatically narrows, and our face gets fierce.

We are not able to breathe properly, and we highly run the risk of hurting ourselves.

Furthermore, an exclusively physical firmness leads to mental firmness.

Consequently,  when we cling on to every thought that arises, we are trapping ourselves within our thoughts, and are building a prison out of the intention of having a hard core practice. We can’t let go, and would rather tune the thoughts out.

On the contrary, what is happening if we practice without firmness at all? What if we are practicing only with ease and softness?

Our alignment gets messy, we are practicing in an unclear way and our gaze tends to wander around. We get lost as to what is happening around us. Here, we run the risk of hurting ourselves.

And sooner or later, our mind gets affected by our physical practice. We can’t focus at all; our minds gets muddy and unclear—we get sleepy.

So to find the balance in firmness and ease is the key.

Often it depends on our daily condition. There are days that we need a little bit more strength and days that we need a little bit more relaxation.  Sometimes, the soup needs a little more salt and sometimes, the soup needs a little more of pepper.

This comes back to our awareness when we start our practice.

1) What physical condition are we in and what does our body need today?

2) Where is our mind? Are we observing a monkey mind, which jumps from one thought to the next. Or, is our monkey mind sleepy and holding on to every thought?

Awareness is, like always, the key.

If the physical practice is distracting us in one way or another, we are not able to experience an open awareness.

As long as we are involved in effort only, we are not in the posture and therefore, not in the present.

So, I am asking: What purpose has the Crane, Scorpion or Setu Bandhasana, given us that is not practiced in the present?

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Assistant Editor: Kerrie Shebiel/Editor: Rachel Nussbaum

Photo: Courtesy of Elliot Brown

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Conny Lechner