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Balancing Ease and Effort

Labor Day marks the start of a new school year. Our family life has always organized around the school year and the seasons. Labor Day reminds me of the important work we do and it reminds me of the importance of also taking rest. In yoga, this concept is referred to as balancing ease and effort. One of the most central books in yoga is The Yoga Sutras by Patanjali. In this book, written roughly two thousand years ago, yoga poses are mentioned only once; yet, when most people think of yoga today, they mostly think of the poses. This is an important reminder to bring both gentleness and steadiness to our practice on the mat, to pay attention to balancing both ease and effort as we move and breathe in class. To further illustrate this teaching, I have included the reading I share in class this week.


A musician once asked how we should meditate. The wise man responded by asking, “How do you tune your instrument?” The musician answered, “Not too tight, not too loose.” Wisdom said, “Exactly like that.” Our yoga instrument includes both the mind and the body. We know that whatever comes up in our mind will affect how we work with our body and vice versa. The useful notion of “not too tight, not too loose” offers us a guideline about how hard to work, when to let go, when to engage our quads more, when to release our jaw. This back and forth of firming and softening, advancing and relaxing, toning and releasing, is how we find balance in our asana practice. At the deepest level, not too tight, not too loose reminds us that nothing is solid or permanent. As you transition from one pose to the next, you are completely leaving one experience and entering a new one. The old pose does not exist anymore, and, in fact, it never did. It was a momentary gathering of alignment, breath, and attention into one physical shape. And then it was gone—as soon as you focused your body and mind on the transition and then on the next pose. At the deepest level, not too tight, not too loose reminds us that nothing is solid or permanent.  This powerful teaching applies to our everyday life as well. Can you sit in the middle of each experience and engage just enough to support the process while releasing your effort just enough to let the experience become alive for and within you? By doing this, we gain a sense of balance in our lives. Not too tight, not too loose creates an imprint of non-drama, a new habit of not panicking or grasping or resisting situations as they arise, and instead shows us how to engage in these situations fully, all the while knowing that everything will shift in time anyway.


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