Yoga Practice: Force versus Intensity

Classical conditioning is deeply ingrained in our psyche and habits.  As such, we are often taught that ‘more is better’ and that there is ‘no gain without pain’.  In fact, I used to have this attitude when I first started on my yoga journey, having come from an athletic and intellectual background where you push yourself (mentally and physically) until it hurts in an attempt to become faster / stronger / better / more successful.
A student recently asked me whether he was ‘trying too hard’ during his practice and it immediately brought back memories of my own first difficulties on the yogic path: I remember getting regularly frustrated during the yoga class as other students mastered postures that I could only dream of despite working with all my might to get closer to that elusive goal of mastering that perfect back-bend or handstand.  It wasn’t until my teacher training that I understood the power of letting go and that ‘less is often more’: I changed my practice from a goal-driven exercise to a cultivation of mindfulness as I transcended layers of stiffness and old injuries.  But once I let go of the need to achieve, the postures started happening!  I understood the power of breath and I comprehended that practicing with intensity rather than force means that you only need enough  energy to activate the posture – once you are there, you reside and surrender into the posture.
The day, the student asked me the question, I decided to really point out to the class the importance of practicing with awareness and compassion and it was amazing to observe how much deeper each student was able to go by just letting go that tiny bit and enjoying the moment rather than the outcome 🙂

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