Friday, October 22, 2010

The Space Between Effort and Rest

Last weekend I took a morning yoga class and the teacher started the practice by telling us we would be focusing on the balance between effort and rest. There are yoga postures that depend on this balance. Put in too much effort and you topple over or fall out of alignment, but exert too little effort and you get the same result. There has to be a balance between the two, and when you find that balance, you find the fullest, strongest expression of the pose.

Take Warrior III, for example. For those who don't practice yoga, or don't yet know the names for all the poses, Warrior III is a balancing pose. You stand on one leg, with the other leg extended toward the wall behind you, your torso parallel to the ground and your arms extended over your head, pointing toward the wall in front of you. To stay strong in this pose, you must be pressing your standing leg firmly into the ground, while extending your other leg and your arms with equal effort in opposite directions. Once you find that balance in effort, stretching equally in both directions, you can rest in the pose. This rest isn't so much a relaxation, as a settling in.

As I listened to the teacher talk about how we sometimes lose that balance in our practice, pushing ourselves deeper into a pose when we should be resting at our limit or holding back our effort when we could breath into a fuller expression of the pose, I knew I was about to learn a lesson I could take with me outside of that yoga studio and into my life.

You see, I tend toward too much effort--on and off the mat. I'm a control freak. Anyone who knows me knows that. I like to know what's going to happen and how it's going to happen. And when things get a little out of control, I like to put them back in order. I'm always working to make sure things don't fall apart, always trying to make things go my way. Here's the thing, though. It doesn't work. I can't control the weather. I can't control the actions or reactions of others. No matter how hard I try, there will always be things outside of my control.

So I took this lesson to heart and I listened carefully to my body. Throughout the class, as I found myself pushing too hard here, or not trying enough there, I brought myself back to the balance, that space between effort and rest, where I was settled, strong, and stable. I've been able to continue recognizing effort imbalances when I'm on the mat, in other classes, with other teachers.

Unfortunately, finding that balance in the world has been a bit more difficult. I'm still trying to find that place of balance where I know I'm making my best effort without pushing or pulling or straining too much to make something happen. There is peace in that space between effort and rest. I know, because I've seen it. And with practice, I'm certain I'll see it more often.

(Photo credit: lululemon athletica)

This piece was cross-posted at, where I'll be journaling about my experience as I learn to teach yoga (and become a more dedicated yoga student in the process).

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