Balancing Tension and Relaxation

The season of fall offers an invitation for us to balance the polarities between tension and relaxation. When leaves begin to turn, gardens are harvested, and temperatures begin to drop we are reminded on a daily basis that nothing is permanent, everything is fleeting. For some we lean into the seasonal wave and passionately thrive off change. The unknown brings us inspiration, as the next corner is potent with opportunity waiting to be explored. For others we resist the seasonal shift and cling to summer like the last leaf on a bare tree. Change creates friction. It is a reminder of things lost, moments ended and time that we can never get back.

The practice of yoga offers an alternative to leaning way out on the pendulum of rigidity or chaos and alternatively supports the steady current. In a more expanded view, yoga asana occurs not just on the yoga mat or meditation cushion, but is the foundation from which we act in daily life. So how does a physical posture lead to a change in mindset? Let us explore the quote from Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras: “Sthira sukham asanam – the posture is steady and comfortable.”

Sthira speaks not only of challenge, strength, endurance and fortitude but also vigilance, the ability to be pay attention, to be present. It is the opposite of agitation and refers to both physical and mental stillness: a controlled, fully engaged body and a focused mind. Sukha translates as pleasurable, joyful, agreeable, easy, comfortable, happy, prosperous, relaxed. Here we bring in the principles non-violence and self-acceptance. We nurture ourselves by doing something that feels good. The actual translation of asana is seat or camp, and can refer to a way of sitting, a hatha yoga posture, a place or a situation.

As a teacher of yoga I witness many postures either being over-amplified or under-supported. Those who are over-achievers and type A personalities require a cueing to soften the tension, release the striving and look for how they can create space and expansion within their bodies. Those who enter into a posture half-heartedly or lacking energy need reminders to stay present and focused. To contain through their centre core and befriend the contracting muscular energy. When the opposition is played out in a present, mindful and conscious body it will begin to layer deeply on a cellular level. In other words, we begin to reprogram our habitual thought patterns. Over time our physical commitment to not serving the ego will begin to affect our emotions and mind set.

An individual who is a type A can often times perform asanas to the point where the facial expressions are showing signs of discomfort and the body is shaking because it is taken too extremely to its edge. When this person begins to back off a little it creates physical space as well as mental space to ask, “Am I happy in this posture?” This may lead to further exploration of whether or not they are able to have fun and be spontaneous in regular life. Once the door of expansion is opened the lens in which they see themselves begins to change. Overtime the rigidity and tension is no longer sought out. Instead they begin to seek “the steady and comfortable space.”

An individual who lacks motivation can often times be fidgety, apathetic and bored. The challenge here is to seek challenge. Look for ways to physically recruit muscular energy to the point that focus and presence is a must. Containment will most likely lead to irritability and rebellion initially. Yet that discomfort if sustained may lead to questions such as, “Why do I always want to leave?” “What is it that I don’t want to look at?” Physical commitment is the practice but leads to the potential by-product of emotional and relationship commitment. These people may find their steady and comfortable space.

Yoga does not impose form upon us, but allows us to discover our Self through form. In life, asana firmly settles us because of these two complementary qualities: firmness in directing our actions and softness in expressing them.