Sunday, March 2, 2014

Softening into Difficulty

When life gets really hard, we respond in the best manner we can in the moment. When faced with a difficult task or situation, we pull on the strength and resources we have available. Do we react based on our habits and conditioning, or can we respond with a deeper awareness? 

Practicing yoga helps us rewrite some of the unconscious programming that dictates our reactions to stress and hardship. Through executing the postures and learning to control our breathing, we train ourselves to soften into resistance. We connect to our inner strength so that we are firmly rooted, yet soft and yielding in response to the storms of life. Our roots are firm so the wind can't pull them up, yet we retain the flexibility to bend and not be broken. 

In Patanjali's Yoga Sutras verse 46, Sthira sukham asanam, tells us to practice yoga with a balance of strength and ease, effort and relaxation. We must balance hard with soft. 

We may intellectually grasp the concept of sthira sukha, but to embed it into our being and learn to live that way, we need to experience it in our bodies. Asana is the third part of the formula for that reason; it is through our postures that we learn how it really feels to balance effort with ease and strength with flexibility. How wonderful if we can apply this principle to each and every area of our lives! We will live happier and longer if we do this. 

When a person is alive, she is soft and supple.
When a person dies, she becomes hard and rigid.
When a plant is alive, it is pliant and tender.
When a plant is dead, it becomes dry and brittle.
Hence, the hard and rigid are companions of the dead.
The soft and supple are companions of the living.

Therefore, a mighty army is ready to be vanquished.
A tree that is dry is ready for the ax. 
The mighty and the great will be laid low.
The soft and the gentle will outlive them all! 

-Chapter 76 of the TAO TEH CHING (translation by Hua-Ching Ni)

In her book, 30 Essential Yoga Poses for Beginning Students and Their Teachers, Judith Hanson Lasater provides this mantra for daily practice: "The harder a thing is, the more it requires my softness." 

In your practice today, both on and off the mat, see where you can soften into hardship and ease up on resistance when things get tough. 

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