The Balance of Effort and Surrender

11/11/2012 18:01


This morning Manuela begins with a beautiful heart meditation, which – as she indicates – can be particularly helpful if you tend to intellectualize and conceptualize a lot. Stephen introduces our mantra practice with the words: “Because it is Sunday, we'll do ten Gayatris.”


As he has often pointed out, in Hatha Yoga the heart tends to get a little left behind. So much is about the mind and the fire center at/below the navel. Hatha means the yoga of force, and it is by nature a more masculine, a more yang practice. The masculine qualities are in fact intellect, clarity of mind, structure, light and fire, logic, determination, or what in the Niyamas is called Tapas, the fire of passion, discipline, austerity. The right side of the body is associated with the masculine side as is everything that is active, heating, solar (sun) and strong. Maybe you notice that the qualities I have just listed are also the ones valued by Western society. Many have been raised to be strong, to be organized, to always have a plan and be in control. Maybe it is no coincidence that most people are right-handed? Then some of us (like me) are also that way by nature. In my Ayurvedic constitution (Dosha), fire (Pita) is already quite dominant. So I tend to be very clear and focused, but sometimes also too disciplined and too hard on myself. In my experience, in some cases, yoga can make us a bit too extreme.


Like Manuela was saying this afternoon in her lecture and practice on the core, some yoga traditions encourage too much core work. Or, as we discover the benefits of the stable transversus abdominis for our lower back, we get a little hung up on it. In other words, from too flexible or too unaware, we become a little too aware and too rigid. Which again hurts the core and the lower back.


It is my own personal experience, that sometimes this masculine clarity, this yoga of stamina and structure can be a little bit too much. There is one thing I never tire of repeating when people that don't do yoga say: “Oh, I can't do yoga – I'm so not flexible!” I also keep reminding it to students that have a very advanced practice. In fact, I constantly have to tell myself: Yoga is not about an extreme, it's about balance, about the middle path. Those that are very flexible may find stability. Those that lack mobility will find more freedom of movement. And once you swing towards the other polarity, then, because of how the mind works, you might just get stuck in that opposite extreme.


So the work of yoga is actually to never stop seeking the balance between effort and surrender. In our society, we tend to be good at effort, so we often need to soften. However, the idea is also not to end up being completely limp and submissive. Which is why the key is awareness and self-observance. Every moment is different, so every moment you will need a different counterbalance.


Like Stephen said this afternoon discussing Abhyasa and Vairaghyam – keep showing up, keep exploring and questioning, keep discovering what you need at this very moment. It is not about the destination, it is about the journey. The process stays always dynamic. We pulsate back and forth, shooting past the middle path into the other extreme. But it's ok, because yoga offers the tools to re-create balance. When we get too much into our head, we chant. When we get too exhausted, we take a long Savasana. When we feel too lazy to do anything, we revitalize with a sun salutation or a handstand. When we feel all hyped up we do a little bit of alternate nostril breathing (Nadi Shodana). When as a woman we get too much into the masculine side, we might opt for a yin yoga practice. It is all about staying mindful and maybe a little about the orientation towwards the ideal of balance, not of an extreme.


Maybe this is something to remind yourself of on a Sunday?