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).

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Walking Tall

I've been noticing lately that after just a few weeks of consistent, dedicated yoga practice, I'm walking taller. My stride is more sure.

I don't know the exact cause of this change. Maybe it's the strengthening and development of my core muscles. Maybe it's the strengthening and development of my confidence, my spirit, my "core". Whatever it is, I know I'm not the only one who has noticed.

After seeing a friend at her baby shower recently, she sent me a message and mentioned that I looked great and should keep doing whatever it is I've been doing. At first, I wasn't sure what she was talking about. I hadn't lost a pound since the last time she'd seen me. But then I saw a photo of us at her shower and I saw what she saw. My smile was wide and I recognized a confidence, radiance even, that I'm not used to seeing in myself.

The same weekend as that shower, I was at the beach with a couple of girlfriends. At one point, as we walked along the boardwalk in the late summer breeze, chatting about our lives and catching up with one another, I realized my walk had changed. At some point over the last couple of months, I'd started standing taller. Shoulders down my back, heart open and head held high, my steps confident and solid.

It seems these changes in my appearance, at least in the way I stand and walk, started when I began practicing yoga more regularly, which makes complete sense. I am strengthening my core muscles, the ones that support my torso and hips, with every class I take. I’m strengthening my mind and spirit, too. I definitely feel more confident on and off the mat as I begin to see what my body is capable of, making progress in both basic and more complicated poses.

Then again, maybe that radiance and confidence has more to do with my recent breakup. I made the choice to move on with my life, with or without The Ex, and then, when he couldn’t go forward with me, I stood my ground and took that step alone. And here I am, still standing. Confident. Alive. Better at being me. Wavering now and then, but still standing despite the winds of emotion.

Maybe it’s the yoga. Maybe it’s my choices. Or maybe it’s something else. Some combination of things I’ve yet to recognize. Whatever it is, I’m happy to be walking tall.

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).

(Photo credit: lululemon athletica)

Saturday, October 02, 2010

Growing in Gratitude

I've written about gratitude here before, but I'm finding that in the midst of major and unexpected life changes and a schedule that keeps getting more and more crammed with things to do, my practice of gratitude gets lost in the shuffle. Instead of recognizing all the things I have to be grateful for, I focus my attention on my long list of to-dos, my frustrations and my failings.

As I've become more dedicated to my yoga practice, I can see that I am becoming less judgmental and more accepting (of myself and others), and learning to be more present and grateful in my life. I generally find it easy to express my gratitude for the big things: my health, my family and friends, my job. But in the midst of all the busy-ness, I usually forget to be thankful for the little things, the things that make those big things so much more enjoyable.

This week I'm setting an intention to shift my perspective and practice gratitude in the little things. In fact, I'm starting right now with this list of things I'm thankful for, things that I've experienced in just the first few hours of this Saturday:

  • An early start on this cool fall morning
  • Sunshine after rainy days
  • A free parking space
  • A good hair day
  • A challenging yoga class
  • Openness to new things
  • Productive writing time
  • Childrens' laughter
  • The pleasure of watching demonstrations of a parent's love
  • Soft, warm bread and hot soup
They're not monumental experiences, but I'm grateful for them just the same.

We don't have to be utterly ungrateful to benefit from having more gratitude in our lives. So I plan to take this morning's attitude of gratitude for the small things throughout the rest of my day (and, with a little practice and patience, the rest of my life). I'm hoping that focusing more attention to the positives of the little things will help me to continue forward in this new phase of my life and not get caught up in what I sometimes think I'm lacking. Out of my gratitude, I know that contentment will follow.

Thanks to Christina Katz for the inspiration to write about gratitude this week. If you're feeling grateful, too, share your thoughts on Gratitude on your own blog and link up the post at The Prosperous Writer.

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