Achieving without Efforting
“The next pose is called Caterpillar.” My imagination goes wild trying to imagine what the pose might look like as I am waiting for my yoga instructor to show us what we need to do. This is my first time to a Yin Yoga class, and I am not quite sure what to expect.
The instructor sits on the mat, stretches her back and arms to the ceiling and slowly bends forward. “Oh, no!” I panic. “Not THAT one!”
I was very flexible as a child, and with no technology of any kind existing during my childhood years, I loved spending all my free time outside with friends – running, hopping, jumping, climbing trees and metal bars, skating, skiing, hanging upside down…
However, somewhere on the way to adulthood, I’ve lost all that flexibility and began having lower back pains. Since then, bending forward has become incredibly uncomfortable and even painful. When I started going to yoga several years ago, bending forward became quite scary, too.
When we got into this pose in my first yoga studio, we were always told to grab our toes with our hands and pull ourselves as far forward as we could. Then the instructor would walk toward every student from behind and push him or her forward by putting her knees and whole body weight onto that person’s back.
I usually kept my eyes closed during this exercise, but I could tell when the instructor was getting closer to me by the increasing volume of the painful sighing and cries that the other students were making. Then it would be my turn.
I would feel the teacher’s sharp knees pressing into my back and my body reacting to the pain: my eyes would squeeze tighter, all the muscles, especially the ones in the lower back, would become very tense and sensitive, and I would hold my breath until it was safe to breathe again.
After several long seconds, the pushing would stop and I would know that the instructor had moved on to other students from their sudden screams and even occasional profanities that some men allowed themselves to shout out loud…
It took my mind only an instant to flash this memory for me as I was watching my new instructor at this new yoga studio bend forward. Now it was time for the students to get into the pose.
I stretched my arms up, felt the spine being very erect, inhaled and bent forward. As always, my body didn’t go very far and I stayed there.
This instructor told us NOT to push or pull ourselves, but to relax, feel heavy in all the muscles and allow the head to hang freely. I placed my awareness into my body and realized that it was actually enjoying itself. I wouldn’t make any yoga magazine covers, but it felt very nice to relax all the muscles and just “hang” like that.
The lights were dimmed and with my eyes closed, I was listening to the soothing music that was playing in the background, enjoying the stretch and thinking about nothing. Suddenly I heard some movement behind me and realized that it was my instructor. “No, no, no, no!!!!!” My mind screamed, interrupting the peaceful feeling. “Here we go!!! This is when it’s going to hurt!!”
I waited. My body began to tense up, but to my surprise, there was no pushing. I suddenly felt extremely pleasant warmth against my lower back. I realized that it was coming from my instructor’s hands. She wasn’t touching me, just holding her hands very close to my skin. “Oooooooh, that’s so nice!” I thought. The warmth slowly moved against my back all the way up to the shoulders and then back down to the lower back again and stopped there for several more seconds.
“Aaaaaaaaaah…,” my body melted, finally trusting the teacher and relaxing into the pleasant feeling, not even noticing when she moved on to the next student…
We stayed in that pose for another minute or two. I was so relaxed and comfortable that I almost began falling asleep, but exactly at that moment we were instructed to “take a deep collective breath and exhale, feeling even heavier, finding a new edge.” I felt my body bend a little further, but to my delight, there was still no pain.
Shortly after that, a new inhale and an exhale, “feeling even heavier, finding still a new edge.”
On the third breath, I screamed inside: “What the heck??!!” – My head bumped against something hard! I quickly opened my eyes and saw my knees. “Wait! What???? Are you telling me that I’m folded in half??? That’s impossible!! I haven’t been able to do that since I was a child!!! And my previous yoga instructor could never push me this far!!! What on earth…??? I can’t bend this much!!!…”
While my mind was going crazy in shock and disbelief, my upper body was comfortably resting, lying flat on my legs – without pushing, without forcing, without hurting, without “efforting”…
I really love this word, by the way – “efforting.” I first heard it from Esther Hicks, when she said something to the effect of, “If you are efforting, you are working with the wrong side of the stick.”
I know this word is not in the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, but it should be! It perfectly describes not only what we believe we should be doing in our lives, but also the way some people choose to spend their whole lives!!!
I think this is one of my biggest and most favorite realizations: I do not want to spend my life efforting! I choose the path of love, gentleness, care, fun, comfort and compassion. It works much better for me. Thank you, Yin Yoga and my lovely new instructor for this beautiful reminder! Sat Nam!