Every year, I set an intention for my yoga practice that I bring to the mat every time I take a class or do my home practice. Last year, it was “Listening with the whole body.” In 2008, it was “discovery” and empowering my brother’s health.
This year, my intention is a kind of mantra that I repeat silently to myself: “Mike, don’t work so hard.”
I’ve been practicing yoga for six years, often with explicit goals, like “changing my life,” “managing my depression,” “improving flexibillty,” — and the list goes on. Any when I come up against my limits, whether physical, mental, spiritual, whatever, my instinct is to try harder, to redouble my efforts, to suck it up. But that approach does not necessarily get the results that I want. Yoga is different than Western disciplines and sports in that it requires that you be present in the moment, dwelling in the body as it is now, aware of the present. If I am constantly measuring my posture against some ideal or counting how long I can hold headstand, I am not fully grounded in the moment.
There will be times when I want to explore my edges, as during the Desirée Rumbaugh or Brian Kest workshops, or trying a pose that I had never attempted before. That’s fine. But I also need to find the ease and grace that allows me to fully inhabit my body as it is here and now. At my recent workshops, I became aware of what could be called “black holes” in my body — areas that I could not touch or access so I could not move past them to attain certain poses because I could not exert any power or control over my “black holes.” Pushing hard does not do anything.
What’s required at this stage of my practice is to pause, pull back and focus on determining the topography of my “black holes.” I have to let yoga itself show me the way, let yoga do the work. I don’t have to “work harder,” but sit back in patience, ready for a new compass to guide me forward.