04 Jun When Less is More
The beauty of leaning in, letting go and surrendering to your practice
By Jessie Lucier
We live in a culture that tells us to go big, give it our all, get it done and take everything to the fullest. And, for many of us, those ideas spill over into our yoga practice. We push ourselves onto our mats, striving to reach peak postures only to play in ego when we achieve the goal or fall victim to that pesky inner critic when we fall out of a balancing pose or fail to nail handstand. The asana practice becomes something to do—to succeed at—rather than something to be with. We start thinking that practice makes perfect and see asana as a practice to perfect.
But, is it? Does reaching perfection—or some semblance of it—really matter, especially when it comes to how we approach our yoga practice? Getting good at and deepening our relationship with anything certainly requires dedication, disciple and practice, however, when the goal becomes reaching perfection, what do we miss?
Shifting From Doing To Being
For many years, I was that perfectionistic, classic type-A yogi. Every class was an opportunity to push myself and my practice to the next level. Regardless of how I felt—mentally, emotionally, physically or spiritually—when I hit my mat every morning, I went big. I was totally that girl in the front row busting into side-crow and kicking up into handstand any chance I could. And, I loved it. For me, that was what yoga was all about. My life was big and busy, and so was my practice.
Over the next few years, I expanded my yoga practice outside of asana. I read The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, began studying the other limbs of yoga and started living by the yamas and niyamas—or at least trying to. I developed a pranayama and meditation practice and fell in love with the goddesses of yoga. I started using mudras and attending kirtans. During that time I wrote for Yoga Journal and had the privilege to meet and learn from incredible teachers all over the country. And, I immersed myself in the magic of yoga festivals—Hanuman being my favorite, of course. Even then though, with all this new insight and information, my mat was still a place to push myself into peak poses even when my energy was low and my heart and body were begging for less.
About a year ago, everything changed. I went through a significant, challenging and heart-wrenching transition in my personal life. Engulfed in sorrow, regret and grief, I took to my mat in a totally new way. I had to. Mentally and emotionally exhausted, I didn’t have the energy to go big. There were days when I barely had the energy to move. I’m a big believer in trusting in the universe and the power of silver linings, and this major life transition stimulated significant personal and spiritual growth. It also transformed my asana practice. I stopped going big. Instead, I went deep. Rather than focus on what I could or should do, I gave myself permission to simply be and surrender to the practice. I left thoughts outside of the studio and began focusing on my breath and listening to what my body and heart were trying to tell me. Instead of focusing on what I could do, I tapped into what I needed.
Play With Conscious Communication And Meet Yourself Where You Are
It can be easy to sometimes forget that yoga poses are not just simply something to do. Rather, the postures are tools to help us stay present. They are designed to prepare us for meditation by getting us out of our heads and into the breath, heart and body.
As you approach a certain pose, ask what your heart wants to say to you. And listen. Is it asking for patience, self-compassion, a letting go of something? And, sensation is your body’s way of talking to you. Listen to it, too. Does it feel good to stay in layer one of a pose—to really feel into it and explore what’s there? Or, is your body feeling up and awake and calling for an up-level? There are no right or wrong answers, and where you’re at in your practice will change everyday—if you let it.
If you find yourself struggling to tap into what your heart and body are trying to tell you, try drawing from the questions used in conscious communication. While this form of communication is most often used when relating with another person, our primary relationship is with ourselves, and these questions provide a framework and can rouse insight into what we’re doing versus what we really need.
The next time that you’re on your mat feeling compelled to push yourself toward perfection, but have a hunch that you might better support yourself by pulling back, ask yourself these four questions:
Is what I’m about to do true for my heart?
Will this pose feel kind in my body?
Is it necessary?
And, if it’s necessary, is it necessary right now?
Call In More With Less
Surrendering to the practice doesn’t mean that there won’t be days—many likely—when you feel big, bright and ready to push your asana practice to its fullest. And, when going big calls to you, go for it! But, remember that big doesn’t always mean better, and doing less often helps us call in more. Letting go of the “shoulds” of the mind and tapping into your body, breath and heart can lead to an expansiveness and new sense of self-knowing that can truly open up your practice—and your life—in ways untold.
Of course, in our busy lives in which thoughts, tasks and tangles never seem to stop, it can be hard to surrender to how things are rather than how we think they or we should be. But, that doesn’t have to be the case on our mats. On our mats—whether at a festival, at a studio or in our homes—we have the agency to design a place of calm instead of chaos and peacefulness or playfulness instead of perfection. And, while the space off our mats might demand that we show up big, give it our all and take everything to the fullest, in asana there is always the reprieve of child’s pose. (Ah, child’s pose.) The big, busy world can wait a few breaths—or a few days as we move into the heart-opening experience of Hanuman—as we let go of the need to perform and perfect and, rather, tap into the exquisite beauty of leaning in, letting go and surrendering to the practice.