“But, whether the form be perfect or imperfect, the Being of the form is perfect [wisdom] power, substance, and intelligence.” The Life and Teaching of the Masters of the Far East, David T. Spalding.
I was married in my early thirties to an academic, a social scientist. I’d been raised by a father who was protestant farmer turned highly successful businessman, a capitalist. His advice to me when I was growing up was that I could have whatever I wanted if I worked hard. My husband the academic found this very funny, as he observed me struggling to climb my way up the corporate ladder. “You think hard work will save you. This is a faulty philosophy.” I resisted his analysis, but I never forgot it, and as the years went by realized that there was some truth to it. Shortly before my father passed away I spoke to him about my occupational struggles and he said, “Well, I guess I just got lucky.” These days, I understand that perhaps success is a result of combination of things. I have accepted the idea that it really isn’t hard work alone. My ex-husband would have broken down the various obstacles to receiving (or not) rewards for hard work as some combination of class and economic oppression. This may be true from a certain perspective. But there are those, like my father, who successful slip through all those obstacles and find themselves successful, sometimes wildly unexpectedly, as in his case. From the yoga perspective, whether on the mat or off, the key to successful navigation of the complex landscape of our lives is a combination of focus and spiritual alignment, or steadiness and spacious, or stability and ease – all these being expressions of the dynamic play of the opposites threaded through the universe and managed through the practices of yoga. This month we are contemplating the idea of sukha (or comfort, ease, sweetness, joy) which Patanjali, a well-respected ancient sage and expert in yoga, advises is a key component of a successful posture. One key to bringing sukha into our practices on and off the mat, is to identify where we make things harder than they are, and let go of that.
One of the first things we can get hung up on is doing the posture “right”. Doing the posture “right” is very hard work, and well, there isn’t a lot of agreement about what is “right” in a posture. Even the shapes themselves change in time. If we try to get all the details “right” we can end up working too hard prematurely. We might be better served to consider just doing a posture well – meaning, weight balanced, reaching in all directions of the body equally, being present in our bodies and breathing. You will get there. In time, the details will fill themselves in. You will grow from feeling your feet on the ground, to feeling your toes and your navel and your shoulder blades. The body will wake up through breathing and quieting the mind. We don’t have to think about the postures. We feel them and do them.
Another thing we can get hung up on is unrealistic expectations. I remember taking Bikram classes in New York City. Bikram had a standard set of instructions that the teachers memorized. One of the instructions was to touch the top of your head to your toes in seated forward bend. I yanked and pulled and sweated for years until finally one of the teachers said “Maybe two people in the world can get their head to their toes. But we show up and we do our best and we benefit just from that.” I lightened up on myself a lot of after that and my postures lightened up as well.
Another way a person could work too hard in asana would be expecting that our progress would unfold in a straight line. It seldom does. Yoga brings into alignment infinite aspects of our being. Sometimes regression in one area (say the physical) brings progress in another area (say, the spiritual). In the school where I studied the folklore was that if you injured yourself it was a call to meditation and a change in the quality of the relationship with the body. Indeed. Becoming comfortable and easy in our practice is partly about allowing those fluctuations in experience without resistance. We soften into spaciousness around the moment and open to what needs tending to. Sometimes we soften the physical effort and discover that there is a subtlety in the body that we are invited to tend to, say, microscopically adjusting the position of our little toe (and then the whole leg shifts).
Breathing. Feeling. Being. Maybe this is the essence of sukha, to remember that we are not working machines, made to be constantly doing, but that we are breathing feeling whole beings meant to be living and unfolding gently, powerfully and lovingly into an experience of magnificence which is unimaginable but ever present, like the blossoming of a flower.
Oh, and, when my father passed away he left me a little bit of money. I was getting nowhere in my corporate ladder climbing and so I followed by heart and stopped doing those late nights at the office and attended a yoga teacher training. Surprise, surprise, when the year ended and I graduated from teacher training I was rewarded with a raise and a promotion at my corporate job. They were pleased at how I had changed. Hmmm….
Trust the process. Trust the process of yoga. Maybe it is all easier than we think.