Enjoying effortless effort

Cat sleeping
My cat practising effortless sleeping in head to feet pose

We all do it: struggle, push, strain or grimace just to reach that final inch in a yoga posture, or get up the hill without stopping pedaling, or working yourself too hard without taking proper breaks. We fill our bodies with tension even when, in a yoga class, we’re trying to remove tension.

So what’s the alternative? Effortless effort. The concept of ‘effortless effort’ was one of the areas of focus during a (wonderful) recent yoga retreat I was on with Andrea Kwiatkowski. It comes from one of the sutras of Patanjali (2.47) which in Sanskrit says “prayatna saithilya ananta samapattibhyam” and translates as “perfection in an asana is achieved when the effort to perform it becomes effortless, and the infinite being within is reached”. (Translation by BKS Iyengar.)

We need to apply ourselves to our yoga practice (or cycling, or work) of course, but, not to the extremes of creating immense tension in the body. We can try to practise physical yoga postures using effort without the extra tension. This can be hard to achieve, and ‘perfection in an asana’ can take many years, or a lifetime, but it’s the process that’s important, not the ultimate posture. Is that process of learning, moving, pushing ourselves done with conscious thought, with ease, with effortless effort? And can you carry that approach over into your work or other aspects of your life?

So, the next time you find yourself clenching your teeth or forcing the breath, try to ease off and find that effortless effort.

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