Effort and ease

winterberriesDo or be? That’s often the first internal debate that surfaces when I sit down to meditate.  Like a subliminal flash across the screen of my mind, my “do” list starts to flicker in my head like old-school TV static. Oftentimes, I catch myself imagining I’m actually doing something on the list. But as I watch my thoughts come in, I also realize I have the power to let them leave.  As I begin to settle in, focusing on the quiet whisper of my breath, “be” offers a comforting alternative.

By carving out these secluded moments, a grounding sense of calm emerges, even amid what sometimes feels like a raging sea of chaos called life. Don’t get me wrong, sitting and meditating all day is not exactly what I’m suggesting. We’ve all chosen what yogis call a householder’s life, living in this world with our families and not alone atop a mountain in an isolated ashram somewhere. So our goal then, is to find a balance in our lives by achieving an internal sense of ease and stability in the ever-changing, always stimulating world that swirls around us.

Clearly, effort, discipline and drive are critical to achieve anything in life. In yoga, it’s called tapas (fiery discipline). Historically, these characteristics were necessary for mere survival. But in our modern society, it’s become a means for attaining more and then sustaining that which we’ve worked so hard to attain. It has become not only a habitual mindset, but a lifestyle. On the up side, tapas is what gets us off the couch and into yoga class. Then discovering that sense of effort and ease (shtira sukham asanam) on our mat is what teaches us how to bring that effortlessness into our life. Strength and steadiness balanced with softness and ease.

Hard work is necessary in life. Just as we practice asana over and over, day in and day out, to refine, hone and re-experience a pose in a new, maybe fuller way. And for most of us, that’s been a good thing. But effort reaches its tipping point when we find ourselves burning our candle at both ends. When we over-do, we often find ourselves spilling, dropping or losing something, snapping at someone, falling or even getting hurt. And even if you’re not the one running on empty, the frazzled energy of those around you can have a similar contagious effect if you allow it.

This kind of perpetual overdrive without time for rest is a recipe for physical pain, mental stress, weakened immunity and ultimately illness and disease (dis-ease). When we lose our sense of ease in life, illness often results. Fortunately, those of us who practice yoga have figured that out, which is why we often become overzealous reformed yogis who want to spread the word to all our family and friends. (Here too, it’s important to learn to practice moderation:))

To balance the fire in your life, integrate a time in your life and practice that allows you to just be. At first, it’s easy to resist more restorative practices, meditation and savasana because a.)It doesn’t look like you’re doing anything, b.) Your mind just keeps on gabbing about its own agenda, c.)It’s way easier to justify doing vs. being. But while these seemingly more sedentary practices can be challenging, it actually becomes a conduit or pathway to create more space in your life. It opens up a free flow of energy with purpose. Interestingly, I found it allows for more efficient productivity. Rather than getting stuck in the momentum of insignificant details, it offers us a way to shift, prioritize and remember what’s really meaningful and important.

So as we all look forward to a fresh new year, may we all make an effort to do less, and be more.

Wishing you all a bright and light 2014,



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