Do you ever find yourself struggling and pushing yourself harder when you practice yoga? What's up with that? Why the need to force and suffer?
I’m inspired by the wonderful teachings in the rich text that I’ve been studying for the past couple of months, Fire of Love, by Aadil Palkhivala. As I learn and continue my studies, there’s a deep need within me to share with others. The topic that’s beautifully examined and verbalized in the book is that of forcing.
“True yoga is not a competition with anyone else, nor even with our own selves. Though a stiff and rigid world idolizes dazzling contortionism with awe, there is not much yogic reward for the flashiest posture. The creation of a small, subtle movement through feeling is far better for your nerves, your mind, your very cells, than a big, impressive movement through forcing.”
I’ve seen it time and time again; a student struggling through class, having a hard time breathing, rushing to transition to the next pose, pushing to keep up with the person on the next mat. What’s that about? Why the need to force our way through our practice? Where does that come from?
We may all share this experience at some time in our yoga journey where we have felt that only by force would we be able to achieve the pinnacle pose that we so desired to “master”. We’ve all at some time pushed ourselves to the point where we had to suffer the consequences of injury. I’ve been there. I remember a time when I pushed myself to go deeper into a pose that called for surrender and ease. I pulled a hamstring muscle and continued to practice with the injury. What did I achieve by forsaking my better judgment and pushing myself so hard? They don’t give out gold stars or prizes for most flexible, you know? It was a classic case of stroking the ego.
I definitely gained some perspective from those experiences and have learned that yoga isn’t about pushing myself through the pain for the sake of mastering a challenging pose. Yoga is there to continue to challenge us just as life does with its constant twists and turns. But, the way that we rise up to meet those challenges says a lot about how we treat ourselves. On our mats, a pose that challenges us requires us to feel, accept and surrender. Never force, rush or push further. Off our mats, a challenge requires us to feel, accept and surrender.
What happens when we encounter a challenge with force? Think about chaturanga dandasana, the yoga push up, that transitions us from plank pose to cobra pose in our sun salutations. It’s one of the prime examples of an extremely challenging pose that you encounter when you start practicing yoga. This pose taught me a lot. At the beginning, I didn’t have the necessary upper body strength to perform the pose with the correct alignment. I refused to modify the pose and lower my knees to the ground because I thought, that’s cheating, I could do it. I was impatient and stubborn. Eventually, I learned that I needed to be more patient and kind with myself. This taught me to be more patient and kind with others. It’s an ongoing practice.
The awareness necessary to feel rather than force will come. The more that you come to the mat with the intention to do what’s best for your mind, body and spirit, the more will be revealed. Until then, I’ll be there to remind you to release the need to feed the ego, feel the poses in your own body, tap into your intuition and find ease in the practice.