A practice of softness and ease
Living life with softness and ease is a tricky ideal to grasp, especially in a society that idealises the Type “A”, go-getting personality. There have been many eureka moments where I thought that I had the concept all figured out. But, thinking back, these were really all points on a learning curve of bringing ease into my life.
For as far back as I can remember, the idea of being soft was never in my library of feelings. I had a fierce competitive streak–which was great for my interest in sports, but it also led me to believe that the ‘no pain, no gain’ approach was a winner’s mentality.
In sports and at work, if there was one thing that I was consistently good at, it was burning out and getting back up again. If you do something enough times, the mind and body eventually become accustomed to it; and this cycle quickly became my default approach for getting things done.
It took years, a steady rhythm of ‘eat, sleep, work, repeat’ and lots of sickness and exhaustion in between, for me to realise that linking pain to gain is simply not sustainable. When I contemplated how damaging this lifestyle could be in the long run, I knew I had to take a closer look at how I was doing life.
At that time, I was curious about the easy-going ways of Strala yoga from all their yoga practice videos and wellness articles that I had read, so I signed myself up for 200-hour ready-to-lead training (aka yoga teacher training) at their New York home base. Many of the Strala concepts and values that I was exposed to put a spotlight on my approach towards life–they challenged my punishing yoga practice, my extreme work habits, and that pain equals gain mentality.
I began to delve into what it means to be soft and moveable rather than rigid and tensed. This ongoing exploration has kneaded the stiff posturing of my yoga practice into movements that are a little more rounded at the edges–a sense of ease and fluidity that happens when the body is led by how it feels, rather than textbook rigour.
Off the yoga mat, finding softness is still a daily practice as I try to move slower and more consciously in many areas of my life–no more packing my days with end-to-end appointments or teaching to the brink of exhaustion. For something that seems so simple, softness takes a lot of deliberate effort.
Here are two things that have helped me along in my practice of softness and ease, and, better yet, in learning how to savour life instead of rushing through.
Tune in (don’t zone out)
It’s easy in group classes to switch off and follow the teacher’s cues mindlessly. This approach ticks the boxes–you’ll get to the postures, and you’ll get the benefits of the muscular effort. But if you want to bring grace and softness to your yoga practice, start by paying attention to how you feel as you move around.
Instead of zoning out, practice tuning inwards to listen to your body. For example, in a pigeon pose when you’re waiting for the next move to be called out, bring this attention to how your body feels. You might already be comfortable lying over your front calf, so try leaning more to the left and perhaps you’ll find a sticky moment there. Take time to linger when you find these sweet spots.
The more you practice tuning in to how you feel, the more fulfilling and joyful your yoga becomes. This translates to awareness off the mat too, as you become more mindful of the motivations behind your actions and begin making more well-thought-out decisions.
Check in with the breath
If you find yourself getting bored with your yoga practice or if you notice yourself feeling tensed after, try to observe how you’re breathing. Staying focused on the breath helps to keep you present in the moment, so that you become more perceptive to all the sensations that arise and can respond to them with care.
Practice moving in a way that keeps the body connected to the breath at all times. Instead of keeping the shoulders tensed, legs stiff and neck craned, try this: allow the inhales to lift and strengthen you, and let the exhales relax the body and mind. The breath can be so powerful–it can carry you through movements with less effort and help you to do more for longer.
Keeping this breath-body connection transforms a yoga practice from one that is all about forcing, to one that nourishes the body and leaves you feeling calm and energised.
Practice becomes habit
It is natural to want a quick fix and fast, immediate results. But in yoga, much of the learning comes from giving the body and mind space and time to unfold. In your yoga practice, practice listening to the body and using the breath as fuel–soften the knees to get comfortable, feel your way around postures to go deeper and let the breath do the heavy lifting.
These tweaks have added so much joy to my yoga practice and value to my life off the yoga mat. Little by little, as we make changes to how we move, habits are formed. As these habits become permanent and trickle into other areas of our lives, growth happens in a great and organic way.