The practice of yoga offers infinite opportunities to dance between seemingly opposite forces. Much can be reaped from exploring how we ebb and flow between contradictions, seeing where they overlap and fold into one another and where they repel in polarizing tensions. This, of course, is indeed our life at large, swaying amidst a vast interplay of juxtaposition. And it’s always represented in the microcosm on our mats, “soften the shoulders and yet energize the arms… feel the feet root firmly into the earth but let your toes be light.” A perpetual two-step between paradoxical energies in every breath.
One of my favorite polarities to explore, both on the mat and off, is the dynamic churning and interplay of effort & ease. These two energies provide an infinite arena of exploration in the body and our lives. Have you been in a class with me in a pose and heard me say, “Relax your jaw?” It seems so obvious when you get a reminder but perhaps you hadn’t even noticed that you were clenching your teeth in Virabhadrasana C. (I do it as well!) So often we are in the midst of unconscious patterns in the body that are overriding the possibility for energy to flow in different ways. Those little reminders to invite in ease are not just novel, anecdotal words. They are gateways into changing bigger patterns and habits in our lives.
This is why the physical yoga practice is so beautiful. When we get glimpses of how dynamic the body mechanics are, we get little portals into seeing how life is a tapestry of contradictions and how we can exist, and ultimately thrive, within it all. If I can consciously remind my left toes to not grip so tightly in a warrior 2 pose, then I can let that energy drift elsewhere. The ease I allowed for can travel up through the arch of the foot and into the legs that are actually working hard to create a solid foundation for the upper body, and then softly move up the spine to find a tall heart. Effort and ease in a symbiotic relation.
Many of you know the often heard yoga sutra relating this to our asana: sthira sukham asanam. This translates as each asana (pose) should hold sthira (steadiness) and sukham (ease). Meaning each pose ideally contains these two balancing elements. When we can find that delicate harmony of effort and ease in each pose then it finally comes to life, moving beyond strained exaggeration or sluggish lethargy. In short, a vibrant levity is presented. This is the sweet spot, where life – and the pose – flow.
The more we play with this on our sticky mats, the more we can move it into our, well, sticky lives. Because let’s face it, life is a playground filled with everything from challenge to celebration. We get to decide how we engage with it, how we let it flow, or don’t. We decide how much effort to put in and how much ease to allow for. Pick any situation in your life, really, anything. There was an opportunity to put in equal parts of ease AND effort to create a harmonious engagement with the present moment.
Some of us just want to make everything challenging, we feel the need to overdo everything, complicate it or put ourselves through some type of tribulation to prove something. And some of us are so easy going that we perhaps don’t push ourselves to take that next leap of faith, whether it’s sloth or fear of failing. The sweet spot is knowing how to keenly exert the right amount of effort, but allow ease to also play it’s part. As Sri Krishna so gently nudges Arjuna in the Bhagavad Gita, “Any effort, whether small or grand, taken on the spiritual path will never be in vain.” And Krishna also mentions the importance of “relinquishing all efforts and attachments to the outcome.” There it is in a spiritual nutshell, take the step (effort) and then let it flow (ease).
Practice teaches us to always examine this interplay so we can let the symbiosis and synthesis of polarities reveal the middle path where all things can arrive harmoniously – without over exaggeration nor apathy, without trying to muscle or fight our way through but also not just hanging around waiting for the next moment or opportunity. Because if you never put in the effort, you may be left in limbo for quite some time.
Dichotomy is all around us. Love and hate, forgiveness and resentment, strengthening and softening, serious but playful, creating vs. allowing, grief and hope. Juxtapositions are in abundance wherever we go. This is truly the nature of life; inhale to exhale, birth to death. Play with these polarities without excluding one or the other and notice what you find. In that sweet spot between effort and ease, balance is revealed. And, I think we could all use a little more of that in our lives.
Om Shanti Shanti Shanti
Want to read more about my journey with 'Ease?' Check out this post from when I left my corporate job.