Wednesday, May 27, 2009

102/146 - Effortless

Tuesday 8:15 pm with Amy

I will the title of today's post actually described last night's class.  It was a nice class, but I would still not call it effortless.  More on that later.

Class was solid, and I felt good throughout.  I focused again on breathing and improving form.  There may have been some payoff.  I didn't go as high in Locust as I have been, but Amy said my legs were much straighter than they have been.

My balance was good, better than usual.  I made two full sides in Standing Bow without falling.  I started concentrating harder on bringing my body down even further in Balancing Stick.  It makes the pose more fun, but alot harder to hold balance and composure.  

Camel felt good, as usual, and Rabbit again threw me off.  I get a really nice stretch in my lower back in Rabbit, and it feels like I'm doing it right.  Then I basically have trouble breathing and get impatient with holding the pose, so I tend to come out early.  I may be pushing it too hard.

That brings us to the Day 145 mediation.  The yoga sutras say:  "Perfection in an asana is achieved when the effort to perform it becomes effortless and the infinite being within is reached."  Gates takes this as a call for us to not push ourselves quite so hard.  I'm all in favor of this idea, and I think its a caution that Bikram practitioners can especially use.  Bikram seems to attract people with a tendency to overdo it.

It's easy to see how this caution relates to several of the yamas and niyamas.  Non-harming:  overdoing it tends toward injury.  Non-lying:  overdoing it stems from a false estimation of our capabilities.  Moderation: this one is pretty obvious.  Contentment: overdoing things can come from judging ourselves to be inadequate.  And I could go on.

But since the idea already seems so well covered, it makes me wonder why there is a sutra devoted to it as it relates to asana practice.  I wonder even more, since there are only three sutras that do relate to asanas.  Even though I agree with what Gates says about not trying too hard, I think that this sutra may be addressing something different.  

When it discusses effort that becomes effortless, it makes me think of what it takes to become a virtuoso at anything.   I'll use the piano as my example, but I think the same idea applies to all sorts of physical activity.  Classical pianists practice endlessly.  The practice can be really hard work.  The years of training involve levels of effort and concentration that are almost unimaginable to me.  But the end product, when its right, is completely effortless.  The performance itself, when its going well, comes to the virtuoso pianist as naturally as breathing.  The ultimate pay-off for all the practice, concentration, and work is to arrive at a performance which is entirely natural, free, and effortless.

I think the sutra here may be getting at something similar with asana practice.  At least, that makes more sense to me.  Thus, I think the sutras point to an ultimate goal of giving full effort and yet having the posture feel effortless.  And that takes more than simply not trying so hard.  It takes a mastery similar to that of a virtuoso in any activity.


thedancingj said...

Yes, that sounds right - you get the ultimate "effortlessness" by putting in a WHOLE lot of effort over time. I think the idea of "stop trying to hard" is horribly over- and mis-used.

By the way, your rabbit sounds like it is correct. It IS very hard to breathe in a good rabbit. Very little air in the lungs. For championships, the way I was taught this year, you basically have to exhale everything out and don't breathe at all during that pose. So don't be scared to ride it out! :)

Duffy Pratt said...

I was talking to a friend about "stop trying so hard" today, and he joked that lots of people he sees in class have really taken that advice to heart.

In Rabbit, I tend to have a certain time frame that I anticipate holding it. I know that's wrong from the start, but there it is. And then, I'll be waiting for the change call, and the teacher will start to do an individual correction. That's when I lose it sometimes.

thedancingj said...

Haha - exactly! I've seen some teachers (and students) get really into the whole "don't try so hard" thing and forget that the OTHER side of the coin says "JUST KILL YOURSELF!!!" ;)

rabbit - That's understandable. And yeah, you really shouldn't do that, but god knows we all DO do it in one posture or another! But I bet that you won't do it next time now that you're thinking about it...

Bosco said...

Two thoughts on this:

I am sure, as you have said, that the real effortlessnes comes from mastery. But I have also found, in my last couple of classes, that just repeating to myself "This is effortless" (along with "Just breathe")tends to relieve my of some of my usual sense of struggle in the poses.

The other thing, as long as we are on the subject, is that I have recently discovered in Rabbit what a huge difference it makes to put my toes AND MY HEELS together - it yields so much more stretch in the lower back.

And actually, one last thing: I love how, at the near-end of the practice, coming out of Rabbit, I can actually put my butt on my heels, and have my torso flush against my thighs. That position is somehow extremely enjoyable for me - maybe because it's like fetal position. A year ago I never would have dreamed: (1) that it was possible, or (2) that I would find such pleasure in this.

Duffy Pratt said...

I've also tried saying "Effortless" during postures, especially the really hard ones, and have found that it helps. What's funny, though, is I don't stop trying any harder. It just seems to make me feel better about what I'm doing.

There's lots of effort we put into poses that doesn't have anything to do with the pose. Think of the grimacing, for example. The reminder that it's effortless, I think, helps shed away the pointless effort. And it's also a nice reminder that the practice is supposed to be fun, at least on some level.

I need to play some with getting my heels together in Rabbit. I've done it sometimes, but I confess that following that little bit of dialogue has not been my strong suit.

In other types of yoga, the chest to thighs, hips on heels pose is called Child's Pose. It's a great passive stretch, gets the blood flowing to the head, and just feels wonderful.