Choosing to live life with softness and ease can be so tricky these days when busyness is often worn like a badge of honour. For as far back as I can remember, the idea of being soft was never in my library of feelings—growing up as a sporty kid in a hypercompetitive environment conditioned me to be okay with stress and exhaustion. But a few years ago, yoga helped me to realise that life—for the most part—is only as stressful as the choices we make.
For many years, the way that I approached my yoga practice was the same as how I trained for the 100-metre dash and powered through 15-hour workdays—with force and aggression. “No pain, no gain” was my best shot at getting things done, I thought.
It took a particularly demanding job for me to realise that I had to re-examine how I was doing life. That’s where the small changes started: morning yoga, email curfews, phone curfews, no-work zones at home, more breath breaks, fewer desk lunches. Every time I formed a new habit, little seeds of doubt questioning my old lifestyle were planted.
Finding a better way
This process did wonders for helping me to slow down, and revealed a richness of inner resources that I had not noticed before. It all culminated in my decision to take an indefinite break from work—a milestone, considering I had spent years choosing to work through my days off. By this time, I had developed the habit of practicing yoga every morning. I was convinced that yoga had a part to play in the better choices that I was making, but I just didn’t know how.
While googling for ideas on how to spend my break, I found a Strala Yoga teacher training course that was perfectly timed with my self-imposed sabbatical. I signed up almost immediately and after a few emails with Mike, the co-founder, booked my trip to New York.
My first encounter with Strala was about a decade ago, back when I first started practicing and would use YouTube to explore the vastness of yoga. I got really curious about their easy-going ways and that never left my mind. Thinking back to the moment that I enrolled myself in training, I really had no idea that this would be exactly the kick in the butt that I needed.
Many of the Strala concepts and values put a spotlight on my approach towards life—my extreme work habits, punishing yoga practice, and that obsessive pain equals gain mentality. I began to reconnect with something that was once so intuitive: feeling. I had to relearn how to listen to my body and pay attention to the subtle messages it was sending me. The closer I listened, the better I became at making choices that prioritised my well-being.
These lessons from training have turned into ongoing explorations in my yoga practice. A big one that I love, is delving into what it means to be soft, and moveable, rather than rigid and tense. This exploration has kneaded my stiff posturing into movements that are now a little more rounded at the edges—a softness 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. As much as possible, I try not to pack my days with end-to-end appointments, and I no longer work to the brink of exhaustion. For something that seems so simple, softness takes a lot of deliberate effort!
Here are some simple things that I am mindful of in my yoga practice today which have helped me along in this journey of softness and ease—traits that I now carry with me off the mat as I learn how to savour life instead of rushing through.
Tune in (don’t zone out)
It’s easy (especially 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 enjoy the benefits of all that muscular effort. But if you want to bring softness and ease to your yoga practice, it’s important to pay attention to how you feel as you move around.
Instead of zoning out and rushing through, practice tuning inwards to listen to your body. For example, in pigeon pose, instead of simply counting down till the next move is called out, take this time to notice 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. Cultivate the habit of taking 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 practice becomes. Learn to be fully present in each step, each lift, each fold, each breath. This will translate to awareness off the mat, 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 yoga or if you notice yourself feeling tense after, practice shifting your attention to how you’re breathing. Staying focused on the breath within one posture, or one movement, allows your mind to be in the present moment. You’ll 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. The breath can be so powerful, it can carry you through movements with less effort and help you to do more for longer. If the picture of tense shoulders, stiff legs and a craned neck seems all too familiar, try this in your next yoga session: notice how your breaths move you. Allow the inhales to lift and strengthen you, and let the exhales relax your body and mind.
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, practice, practice
It is natural to want a quick-fix and fast, immediate results. But in yoga, much of the learning comes from giving both the body and the mind space and time to unfold. Practice listening to your body and using your 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 small changes to how we move, habits get formed. And as these habits become permanent and trickle into other areas of our lives, growth happens in a great and natural way.