I hate core work. Like, absolutely loathe it. Yesterday, I was whining and cursing through a workout with my friend. I’ve been teaching yoga for seven years and I still want to breathe out dragon fire and punch something during plank. Sometimes, I’m like that golden retriever at the dog park that immediately rolls over for you to rub her belly. A part of me is submissive as hell and content to eat, play, swim, fetch something for you, and cuddle. Maybe that’s why I love teaching restorative yoga. I find it deliciously lovely to explore the sweet, relaxing, recuperative side of the practice.
But the ancient yogic text of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras reads “sthira-sukam asanam,” translated as “the posture (asana) [should be] stable (sthira) and comfortable (sukha)” or even more simply, to “resolutely abide in a good space.” This translation mirrors the sweeping essence of yoga as a practice which brings balance to our extremes. Even the ujjaii breath is often compared to ocean waves in its audibility and also in its rise and fall. The inhale mimics the sun, the rise of the tide, effort, the sthira, which means “to stand, to be firm, to take a stand“, at its root. The exhale represents the other side of the coin, the moon floating over the gentle fall of the tide, the letting go of our grievances and worry, and the sukam, literally translating to “good space“. One of my favorite quotes by Joel Kramer is “Yoga is a dance between control and surrender – between pushing and letting go – and when to push and when to let go becomes part of the creative process, part of the open-ended exploration of your being.”
Over the years, my own practice of yoga and meditation has helped me explore the middle ground. I found yoga as a deer-in-the-headlights, perfectionist, overachieving, young twenty-something in New York City. Now, I definitely fall on the other side of the pendulum. My boyfriend is a chef and I will eat a lot of pie if I let that sukam quality run rampant! But, the beauty and the medicine of the practice is its ability to meet you where you are, every time. I find that as women in this day and age, we rarely feel naturally balanced. We either find ourselves overextending and straining to accomplish a feeling of keeping up/surviving or we throw our hands in the air and bury our sadness/anxiety/feelings in what we think are sweet comforts. Usually these illusive pleasures turn out to be band-aids for our true inner struggles. Many would argue that America is addicted to the extremes of overwork and “comforts” of overeating, overspending, social media, and indulgence.
I was teaching a class the other day and we were holding a warrior standing pose. The women in the class looked at me like what the eff? Why are you making us do this? They were making my plank face. We laughed about how people think yoga is supposed to be all unicorns and sunshines and roses. Like any worthy endeavor, we will have breakthroughs as we dedicate our time to exploring a little ease during our strong pointed effort, and some effort in staying present during our ease. What we find is clarity and quite possibly the ability to approach our lives with more curiosity and less extremism and judgment. We might add a little sthira when we are dragging our feet or avoiding an uncomfortable opportunity to grow. We might mix in a pinch of sukam when we feel disappointed so we can cry and rest and reset before emerging back into the world. For me, this sutra has helped me break down overwhelming tasks into smaller bite-sized pieces. I am able approach the little steps gently, remembering to breathe as I go instead of unconsciously rushing. On the other hand, I can allow myself a day off but maybe not eat a whole pie.
I continue to enjoy the practice of yoga because it’s a good friend to me. It tells me like it is every time. It tells the truth of what I need. This season, I need a little core work so I can show up with confidence in the world, support my hyper mobile lower back, and balance out my Southern food habit. But, there’s gotta be some love for myself in the intention behind building strength.
How about you? What do you need? What steps will balance out your dance so truth and breath and your truest expression emerge?
Robert Svoboda and Scott Blossom (2014, June 2). Sthira and Sukha: Steadiness and Ease. Retrieved from Yoga International.
Art by: Naomi Vona