As I rolled around on my yoga mat this morning, I started thinking about effort and ease. I have been learning a lot about vehicle batteries and electrics lately, as I try to sort out the heating system in my campervan. Vehicle batteries do not like being drained more than 50% on a regular basis – if they are then they quickly deteriorate and pretty soon you’ve got a dud battery. And many appliances, like my heater, will not work if the battery has less than 50% juice.
The Yoga Sutras advise us that asana, or yoga postures, should be steady and comfortable - sthira sukham asanam. This means finding a balance between effort and ease. If we think about the vehicle battery, we can consider how the effort we use could lead to burn out if we aren't careful, just like the battery. If we put too much effort or force into our yoga practice, we could end up injuring ourselves at worst, or at best simply not enjoying it or gaining its full benefit. In our daily lives, if we try to run on a half empty tank, never taking breaks, we end up stressed, exhausted, snapping at our loved ones, making silly mistakes at work or while driving the car and generally not enjoying life.
Picture from Passports and Champagne Travel Blog
If we can reduce our effort/force to 50% or even 70%, and rest on a regular basis to recharge, life becomes more enjoyable - we are more relaxed, our health improves, our relationships thrive and life is just more fun! We can be more present, focused and responsive. In my yoga practice, using only 50% effort means moving slowly, and when a strong pose gets close to strain I move out of it into something more restful, like child’s pose or gentle supine twisting. Then when I have regained my energy I might move back into the stronger pose. Or when I notice my neck is feeling stiff in bridge I respond by sitting up and focusing on releasing my neck for a little while. Responding in this way means I find more freedom and joy in moving my body. I finish my practice feeling both energised AND relaxed, rather than tired, frustrated and sore.
Off the mat, we often put all our energy in one place, like work, and have none left for our family, friends, or even ourselves. If we can reduce our effort somehow, we can spread our energy more appropriately and gain more balance across all areas of life. It goes against the grain of what we've been taught, in a society where "success" is everything, where 110% effort must be made in order to get 110% productivity.
But what is success? When I was a child, most “old” people around me had health issues and limited mobility. Then I came across a friend’s grandparent who ran across the hills of South Wales on a regular basis. And practiced yoga. Without knowing it, I began to equate success with longevity and good health, beginning my own journey of discovering what that really means.
We have to decide for ourselves what success is, and if for you it involves good health, how can you take a step towards that? For some it might be turning off your phone while you eat lunch, or actually taking a lunch break. It may mean going for a walk at the end of your working day to clear your mind before going home. It might be asking someone to babysit the kids while you take a hot bath or go for a massage. It might be reducing your hours at work so you can spend more time at home. It might be scheduling in time to see a homeopath, acupuncturist or counsellor.
For me, my health is like my guiding light. And health encompasses every aspect of our being - physical, mental, emotional and spiritual.
What would your life look like if you made optimum health your goal?