Effort and Ease

I’m on my yoga mat, and I’m struggling. I’m straining hard to do a bridge pose. My pelvis is off the floor and I’m grimacing. I feel tension through my whole body. I feel like I will collapse at any second, and I don’t know how long I can hold on.

I’m in a class taught by my favorite yoga teacher. She says “let’s meet this pose with effort and ease, effort and ease. Where is this pose asking us to work hard, and where is it asking us to relax?” I don’t get the hint, I continue to struggle. “Is your face helping you with this pose? If it’s not, it can relax.” Finally I understand. I relax my face, my pelvis stays rigid. Tension evacuates my head. It’s a struggle actually, to release the tension in my head while maintaining the pose in my core. I struggle with that. But it’s a new struggle, a better struggle. Now I’m struggling to make it easier. And I haven’t lost form. Muscles tense and relax throughout my head and neck as I try to figure out which ones I actually need. My body is learning, each muscle is learning where I need to make effort and where I need to ease up. I am getting good at bridge pose.

It’s popular in online advice these days to tell people they should ease up on themselves, stop “self-coercing”, lighten up. This can be good advice, but it’s not quite the right mindset. Working hard, maybe even 12 hour days and weekends, doing things your bodymind resists doing are essential to personal development. The trouble is finding the right combination of effort and ease. Often people strain in vain. It’s incredible how much energy you can spend worrying about whether something will work, or being mad about some personal drama. So lighten up on that. But double down on what’s important. Your life should have the right combination of effort and ease.

Nick Cammarata makes a similar point here: