14 Feb Lessons from the Yoga Mat #2: On effortlessness
There is a yogic concept which has transformed the way I move and even the way I work. The term is effortlessness. In effortlessness I am grounded in my body, my breath comes easily, and I use my body in a way that is best for me, right then.
Many people say, “I’m not flexible enough for yoga”. They say they aren’t very good at yoga because they can’t touch their toes or reach their feet behind their head. But there is a difference between doing something easily, and doing it effortlessly.
I happen to be rather flexible. Not as flexible as the contortionists at the circus, but I can touch my toes, do splits and even bend over backwards until my head touches my toes.
But this does not make me good at yoga. In fact, at times, I have even found it to be a hindrance.
When I started out in yoga I did many of the more advanced postures easily. Easily in the sense that I made the shape look like the same bendy shape the teacher was doing.
But there is a difference between doing something easily, and doing it effortlessly. But, as I say, there is a difference between making the shape and doing yoga.
In a yoga asana we are mindful. We are aware of our body. We are present with our breathing. We are acting with intention.
Take a couple of breaths now and notice how it feels to breathe. Observe how your chest moves, your stomach, your back and your sides. Notice the speed of your breath.
And now notice how easily you breathe. Is it comfortable to breathe?
What would it mean to breathe effortlessly?
You can try a similar thing with your arm. Raise your arm above your head and then place it in your lap again. Repeat the movement a few times, experimenting with the feeling of being really aware of your arm – and what it might mean to move your arm effortlessly.
People suffering from illnesses like Fibromyalgia and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome often find themselves worn out after the smallest amount of activity. The same thing can happen when we are under stress, or even in a new situation like a change of job or a new city: we seem to be tired more easily than normal, more out of sorts.
And then there are those times when I can do so much for so long and be really very well indeed.
So what is the difference?
The difference is in the way I manage my energy. How much energy I use to move my body through the day, the amount of energy I use to think, and the amount of energy I give to others and receive in return. In effortless, I am able to use just the right amount of energy to move.
My physical practice happens to be yoga. Yours may be Tai Chi, relaxation or a mindful walk through the park. Whatever your practice of choice, if that practice allows you to connect with your body then you will notice that with time you are better able to know what your body is capable of. When you are present in your body, you know when it needs to rest. When you are connected with your body you give it permission to do what it asks of you. When you are aware of your body, you are more easily able to move effortlessly.
Treat your body and yourself to some moments of pause today. Perhaps a few breaths before you go to sleep. In those moments of stillness, listen to what your body is asking of you. Give yourself permission to nurture yourself.
Whatever your health situation right now, in this moment, your body is a precious thing and it deserves care. Practice moving in effortlessness each day and notice how moving, however small that movement may be, becomes a joy.