Shift Your Asana Focus from Goal to Grace

March 10, 2015    BY Courtney Denelle

In every yoga studio worldwide, each passing day produces hundreds of new students who walk into the yoga room for the very first time. Maybe they’re looking for stress management or relief from chronic back pain. Maybe they’re athletes seeking overall maintenance in light of a recent injury. Or maybe they have a friend who’s been practicing for a while and simply will not stop talking about it. Regardless of what brought them through the door, almost every new student gets the same suggestion from their teacher: Take it easy!

Let’s face it, everybody wants to hit a home run their first class, even those who are a bit unsure of what they’re getting into. The concept of hard work is so ingrained in our mental makeup that it can confuse the trajectory of our moving meditation. After all, our culture is absolutely inundated with messages and images confirming that force and sheer will can overcome any kind of adversity; so much so that together they create a measuring stick by which we gauge our own efficiency and success. While there are merits to this point of view (Sometimes the "right way" truly is the "hard way"), there’s also a lot to be said for slowing down, listening to yourself, and learning patience and self-compassion along with asana.

Let’s face it, everybody wants to hit a home run their first class, even those who are a bit unsure of what they’re getting into.

Often we connect “taking it easy” with “keeping it lazy.” It’s a paradigm that most operate under without even realizing it. Heck, it took me almost three months of practicing six times a week before I realized that when my teacher remarked, “You certainly are working hard,” that it wasn’t necessarily a compliment. To be fair, I was working hard. Grunting and moaning and groaning. Holding my breath in postures as I attempted to throw myself in deeper, heedless of mindfulness and alignment. Dancing around from foot to foot between each asana. Compulsively wiping the sweat from my forehead to validate my effort. I’d look around the room with both envy and condemnation at people moving fluidly through their practice. Even if their postures weren’t textbook, there was a mindful rhythm to their embodiment of the very same series that I was barreling through. "What gives?" I thought.

I scoffed when I learned the meaning of the word asana: seated with ease. Yeah right, buddy. There certainly wasn’t anything easy about teetering invirabhadrasana (warrior) or trikonasana (triangle), not for me at least. But one early morning, I found myself on my mat, reeling. I was exhausted and far too tired to be my own cheerleader. You would think that would have doomed me to a horribly demoralizing class, but then the craziest thing happened: As the sun came up, my thinking rose as well. Where aggressive, forceful thoughts about “pushing” myself once occupied my skull, there was now stillness. Presence in the moment. Mindful breathing. I slipped into the proverbial pocket of the practice. Knowingness coursed through every fiber of my being. I wasn't just "thinking I could." I knew I could. Of course, it’s worth noting that I didn’t magically perform the full expression of every posture. But it’s also worth noting that it really didn’t matter.

I got to thinking about the musicians I had so loved through the years (lessons sometimes crop up in the strangest places)—these virtuosos who could perform seemingly impossible sonic feats while making it all look effortless. Jimi Hendrix’s playing never once looked forced. It was moving art, languid and easy, and totally of the moment—none of which took away from his skillful execution or the genius of the composition. And it all suddenly became so clear where the ease in asana comes from. It’s not as if composure in the dynamic action of triangle somehow takes away from the overall effort of the heart and the lungs working together. You’re still sweating and your heart is still pumping. But awareness and poise move into the neighborhood where force and frustration used to live. To be in your body in this very moment carves out the kind of gratitude that celebrates what you are able to do today and honors your higher self with the priceless alms of love, infinite possibilities, and pure potential.

The shift from force to grace can elicit greater results than ever imagined.

What would happen if you were to change your perspective on what delivers efficiency and what defines success? The shift from force to grace can elicit greater results than ever imagined, especially when we release our grip on the idea that perpetuating a heightened state means achieving maximum results. It’s a relevant lesson on the mat as well as off, the kind of lesson that frees up a lot of energy and keeps you coming back for more.

So, yeah…Take it easy.

Namaste.

Courtney Denelle
I am a yogi and seeker on the path of healing, service, and fearlessness.

The quality of my own experiences with childhood abuse, depression, and homelessness has put me in touch with the full range of my humanity and, in doing so, has reminded me that other people feel this way. In revealing my wounds I reveal my purpose:

In solidarity with those who suffer in silence, I see you. We are all in this together.

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