It’s fair to say we look down on easy. Easy often connotes inferior, lacking effort, not worth it. It’s also true that things that come easily--whether it’s remembering names, calculating numbers, or expressing ideas—to one person may be difficult to another. My older daughter Marian is naturally talented at seeing visual details and bringing them to life by drawing, painting, and designing. My younger daughter Eleanor is naturally gifted with words taking complex concepts and putting them simply and persuasively. Neither, however, would get very far without practicing their craft – working, revising, and re-examining again and again their efforts.
So, apart from sharing my maternal pride, what does this have to do with yoga? I guess I’ve been thinking awhile about how yoga can become a competitive sport with labels describing what is a beginner’s practice and what is an advanced practice. And, invariably, “gentle”, another term for easy or less physically rigorous, can be considered a gateway to something more “advanced”.
But what is advanced in yoga? If we look to the earliest Sanskrit source (400 CE), Patañjali’s Yoga Sutra 2.46 states, sthira sukham asanam. Sthira means steady, stable, motionless; sukham is comfortable, ease filled; asanam translates to meditation posture from the root meaning “to sit” . One translation (Harvard University Archives) of this proverbial saying is, “An asana is what is steady and pleasant.” Hmmm…it is interesting to view our practice in this light.
Ease is my preferred word for pleasant. Finding ease in your body – range of motion, grounding, expansion -- requires attention but not necessarily more effort. Seeking freedom from rigidity and discomfort calls for a lighter touch. Moving with ease means balancing strength and softness. The breath soothes the nervous system and yields quick feedback about the body’s response to activity. So when we ease into a posture in yoga we try, in a sense, to make it easy, as in, without great effort.
Whether you are old or young, flexible or tight, strong or weak, yoga invites you to experience steadiness and ease in your own body just as it is. The ancient saying, “soft and supple are the disciples of life,” is instructive here. It’s not pushing through or reaching a peak pose that necessarily defines progression in a yoga practice. Sometimes it is the ego surrendering to whatever limits you come up against in a posture and without judgment honoring your own body’s wisdom.