Gentle Practice...Every Day
Each time I sit down to write a blog post, I start by asking myself, "What's going on in my yoga journey right now?" For the past few weeks, the answer is the same: I'm learning that gentleness is an essential—not optional—part of the practice for me.
I keep thinking I have some temporary reason to practice gently: a marital problem, an illness, or some other challenge that's come up in my life. It's true I've had a difficult few weeks, but today I realized something: a practice with extra attention to breath and compassion towards myself isn't just the way I should practice when things get tough. It's how I should always practice.
I think this is especially true for people who like to push: those of us who are strong or physical, those with an intense will, or goal-oriented individuals. In Ashtanga yoga, there seem to be many of us like this. Perhaps this is an example of people being attracted to that which they truly need, because Ashtanga yoga will inevitably teach you the futility of pushing.
To me, cultivating an element of gentless (or sukham, as described by Patanjali in Yoga Sutra 2.46, often translated as "ease") means finding a place where I can hold the asana while maintaining full, deep breath. A place where there is sensation but not pain. A place where I have room to explore subtle movements that enhance my understanding of the asana. If I go beyond that point, tension takes over and negates the therapeutic and meditative effects.
Gentleness also means going lightly on jumpbacks and jump throughs if my energy is low or taking a few extra breaths if my breathing becomes labored. It's ignoring silly egocentric thoughts like "What if my student (or my teacher) sees me going lightly, and thinks I'm not good enough?" It's making appropriate modifications if I have pain, or respecting some days my body might not be able to go as deep.
I think this is important to talk about because the asana portion of Ashtanga yoga is often considered "intense." Intense in its ability to transform, perhaps, but I don't think it should be intense in the sense of a CrossFit workout.
It's only with a sense of gentleness that I am able to glimpse the calm mind we are trying to cultivate with yoga.