The immediate purpose of Hatha Yoga is to bring about profound relaxation on every level of our being. This, and only this, allows our full potential to ripen, our true nature to express itself unhindered. Tension is so ubiquitous and deep within us that we don’t even notice most of it. Therefore just making ourselves comfortable is not the same thing as relaxing. If it were, there are many easier ways to relax. However, the relaxation these offer is superficial and momentary. They relieve us for a while of our feelings of tension, perhaps, but they are not enough to remove our tensions more permanently. For this to occur a little judicious effort is required.
Effort can be of two kinds. Constructive, energising effort or destructive, exhausting effort. It is by applying the former to our tension that yoga permits genuine relaxation to occur, relaxation itself cannot he imposed. Relaxation is an art – a profound and challenging one. To release ourselves permanently from residual tension, we must challenge its presence in our body. Effort must be directed towards the tensions in such a way that they dissolve, leaving us in a genuine state of relaxation.
This means that whatever we do must not create tension. Our compass for guiding our practice so that it does not reinforce or generate tension is the core of the body. The core of the body, including the pelvic floor, the front spine, the throat, face and brain, should always be passive, relaxed and receptive. Our actions should utilise effort judiciously, until they produce a state of effortlessness. This occurs when each individual action, sustained by only that much effort that it requires, combines with all of the others to create an integrated state that feels effortless: completely stable, and completely comfortable: effortless effort.
Learning the meaning of effortless effort means learning to recognise and find our edge. To support this process we need only to apply honest sensitivity to what we are doing. This cannot occur if we are trying to reach a predetermined goal, regardless of our condition and capacity. This is a subtle form of violence that will exhaust and frustrate us sooner or later. Instead we must try to approach our practice openly. As an exploration of the territory: ourselves, just as we are. It is vital, therefore, that in our yoga practice we do not hinder it, by pushing past the edge, or giving up before reaching it. In each posture we much approach it from our awareness, from our breathing, from the core of the body. Although we are utilising muscular adjustments we orchestrate them to a more subtle theme. While entering the pose we extend our awareness out from our deepest centre into each part of the body. This creates an inner dynamic, a flow of attention and energy from the centre to the periphery. From this dynamic we utilise the muscular adjustments, The deeper the place from which you start, and the more evenly and fully you release the energy outwards, the less consideration you will have to give to muscular detail. By approaching the whole from the centre, the parts will take care of themselves. Of course, this depends upon a refined and stable quality of awareness, and an acute sensitivity to what is happening as a result of what you are doing. This takes time to flourish. Be patient. At the same time however, we also allow our awareness of the peripheral surfaces to lead us back in to the centre. So that while we try to initiate from our centre, there is always a complementary, supporting flow of energy and awareness back in as well as out. The key to this creative dynamic is the energetics of the whole body, from the core to the periphery the structural demands of the shape we are making will spontaneously elicit the subtle adjustments of asana. This requires spiralling energy in the trunk and limbs. It depends upon depth of awareness. As our awareness deepens, becomes clearer, more open, more direct, we will depend less and less on our knowledge and understanding of asana and its techniques, because we will be experiencing it. Then we begin to find that any pose, if it embodies Asana is enough, is yoga.
How long you spend on a pose is determined by you, and varies day to day. Take your time entering with clarity, precision and sensitivity. Then take time to stay still in the pose, challenging your tension and your limits carefully and consciously. Then come out deliberately, with the same clarity, precision and sensitivity with which you entered. In the beginning you may like to count breaths in a pose to establish a rhythm. How many depends on the length of your breath, which will vary day to day and posture to posture. However, do not become dependent on counting as a measure. It can easily become a way to evade challenging your limits honestly. Let your body, not your mind, tell you when the work in the posture that you are currently capable of has been done. It knows. Move into postures slowly and consciously without expectation and exit effortlessly without judgment.
Feel how the inhalation lifts the body into posture and creates an internal dynamic. Feel how the exhalation allows further exploration of the body by going deeper into postures.