Whatever I was doing on my yoga mat Saturday night was certainly not yoga: unaware of what was happening, acting out my own ideas of what was to be done and at what pace, overly enthusiastic, too stubborn, too eager – too too in other words. It reminded more of a struggle than of a flow and I was as close to inner peace and harmony as the parties in the Middle East problem seem to be to the peaceful resolution. After half an hour I finally surrendered to the moment and collapsed on the mat: sweaty, totally exhausted and humbled. Who exactly was I fighting with? (My cats were probably wondering the same, watching me from their vintage points).
A yoga teacher once said that if a student found herself short of breath or exhausted it was because she had big ego and was pushing herself too hard. I have been following this principle in life as in yoga, it seems: if it doesn’t bend, push harder. Breaking sweat is a requisite of success, was my belief. “No pain no gain”, the common wisdom teaches us. The whole idea of pushing and then pushing some more seems to be incorporated in the whole notion of persistence.
This attitude didn’t really particularly suit me but I never felt the need to question it. What is the alternative? Being passive doesn’t sound like a strategy that would take one far in any century. And then there is patience that has nothing to do with being passive and everything to do with being in tune with the situation.
Do you have the patience to wait
till your mud settles and the water is clear?
Can you remain unmoving
till the right action arises by itself?
(The Tao Te Ching)
“Unmoving” in this verse is not used as a synonym for “passive”, though. Can the right action ARISE by ITSELF? Just like that: effort-less?
Dona Holleman, another yoga teacher, says that “humans beings seem to have lost ability to “go with the flow”, to trust this (life) force to take them wherever they needed to go”. She argues that through strengthening our bodies and minds yoga often allianates us even more from the life force. We can succeed or not by ways of will, but it will “always be an act outside the flow of life, and thus in the end will take far more energy and contains far more risk of going “wrong”…”. Basically, what seemigly makes us stronger actually separates us even more from the natural flow existing in the universe and that we are originally part of. It is this (perceived) separation that makes us feel insecure and in the end unhappy.
So, basically, instead of doing:
and everything will fall into place.
(The Tao Te Ching)
I took this attitude with me to my yoga mat the next day and let asanas come through me instead of willing them through no matter what. The ego could be watching from outside the mat, I was not competing with myself. Not-doing the exact same asanas I hardly broke sweat. The breath was with me all the time and – importanly! – I was with the breath all the way through. It is amazing how little we need to do to truly feel good in the moment.
** One of my very first watercolors.