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April 8, 2021

When Effort becomes Effortless: Prayatna Saithilya.

Have you ever heard the expression, “Let go or be dragged?”

If you haven’t, think about what it’s telling you.

Some things are not meant to be held on to. There seems to be quite a buzz lately about “letting go.” It’s a bit of a trendy expression. Ask yourself what that means. Does it mean something different for whoever is using it?

Think about playing a game of tug-of-war: there is one moment when the flag gets dragged across the center line and you dig your heels in. You know you’re going down. That would be the ideal time to let go and walk away, or literally, you’ll be dragged.

I have fallen in love with the freedom that comes with loosening my grip on life.

When you hold on to anything too tight, you start to blister or get rope burns. Now apply that to an emotional choke hold you may have on someone or something. It could be a relationship that is slipping through your fingers or a job you are struggling in that is circling the drain. You might not get blisters, but when you hold on with all your might, you may feel the energy being sucked out of your body. You may get stomach aches, headaches, sleeplessness, or anxiety. It’s mentally and physically exhausting.

We’ve all heard that saying, “If you love something, let it go. If it comes back to you, it’s yours. If it doesn’t, it never was.” In this new version of me, I am focusing an appropriate amount of effort on the things that require my attention—I am willing to do the work. But if something becomes a struggle, I may sit myself down and wonder what I’m meant to learn.

I have turned down the volume on that voice in my head that requires me to be perfect and judges when I fall short. The funny thing is that it’s my own voice. Nobody else seems to care if I’m perfect. I now make it a policy not to plan outcomes before they unfold, so as to lessen the possibility of unmet expectations in the form of disappointment or worse. I am currently reveling in the true liberation that comes from letting go before my blisters start to bleed or I am dragged through the mud. This does not mean I run at the first sign of difficulty, but I pay attention to the process and act with mindfulness.

I was working with a physical therapist (who is also a Pilates teacher, healer, and friend) last week. We are both yoga teachers, so that is a common language we speak. I was explaining to her that it was challenging for me to gauge how hard to push and when to back off while working on the Cadillac.

That is when two magical words rolled right off her tongue, as if they were set to music.

I stopped what I was doing and asked her to say them again: prayatna saithilya.

I find myself saying it over and over, and as I do, something gets lighter. My feet feel less heavy as I stand on them, and a few protective layers of my heart start to melt. The mere pronunciation lifts anything heavy I may be carrying around.

Prayatna saithilya is Sanskrit for the concept of striking a balance between the effort of asana (postures) and smooth, easy breathing. When one finds herself in prayatna saithilya, the balance between exertion and ease has been established.

Prayatna means effort, and on the mat, it is referring to the effort required to breathe. What is the first thing we do when we’re born and the last thing we do before we leave this earth? We draw a breath.

Saithilya refers to relaxation. They are yin and yang, or exact opposites, that somehow have to come together to form a whole. In order to experience harmony within, these opposites must find a way to attract. Once prayatna is achieved, “the body is held without any effort by the yogi’s innate intelligence and connection with the divine,” according to Yogapedia.

When I teach, I like to direct students’ thoughts to the parallels of life off the mat. I encourage them to to apply the principles we are working on to the world. We practice yoga on the mat, and we live it off the mat. Tree Pose is a solid example. The standing leg must be strong like the trunk of a tree. The arms must be fluid and move with the wind. If they are too rigid, they will snap off. How can we strike that balance in our lives between dancing with the wind and being rooted into the earth?

What parts of our practice must we take with us when we roll up our mat? What skills have we learned in yoga that will assist us in feeling that balance at home? At work? In friendships? In marriage? In parenting? With money?

I believe we practice yoga to get better at living.

After every posture, we have the opportunity to let go of the victory lap we may have been running in our head, or the pity party we were throwing for ourselves. Shaking things off as quickly as they happen is the first baby step we take toward walking the walk. Think about how you might loosen your grip in life. What lights you up? What feeds your soul? How can you add what’s missing and remove what’s excessive to create a balance between work and play? Become aware of where in life imbalance exists. Once that awareness is present, everything shifts. At first, it may feel contrived or mechanical, and that’s okay. A new habit needs to be repeated an average of 60 times before it’s established as a new pattern of behavior.

Inhale with the ease, and exhale with the effort. This is far more than a yoga cue. If I had to define it in real-world words, I’d say it means, blow off steam. I take class with a yoga teacher who is larger than life. She’s a living, breathing badass. She says, “Inhale the good s*t and exhale the bad sh*t.” Somehow, she pulls this off in a yoga studio and it translates. Excuse her French.

Ask Siri to pronounce these Sanskrit words for your listening pleasure, and then just delight in saying the phrase over and over. Find ways to inject it into your conversations. It’s magic. I can’t decide if I am more enamored with how the words sound being spoken or what they mean when put into action. No matter; they’re what I’m currently excited about and this makes the search for balance in life feel more like a dance than a game of tug-of-war.

My love language is writing. It isn’t always easy to find the shiniest words, so to have them fall in my lap must be divine intervention. It deepens my affection for language when I find a new way to say something. It magnifies my appreciation for language when those new words say something better than I ever could in English.

Rumi said, “Life is a balance between holding on and letting go.” I wish he had said it in Sanskrit, but he did not.

You now know how to say prayatna saithilya. Let those words be part of your self-love language. May they guide your search for balance and create joy as you share them with others. Namaste.

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