There was a student today struggling with a pose. He asked me, which direction should I push. I said, to reach the pose, you do not push, but surrender. This idea --of effortlessness -- is a big struggle on the mat. Especially in India, effortlessness is misunderstood to mean being laidback. Au contraire it is a state of absolute awareness, a call for preparedness, total alertness without all the agitation associated with these states. If all our text books were burned away, and we had only this simple idea -- which threads through all of Indian philosophy, and all of the Eastern philosophy, in fact -- we would be well-educated, super aware and disciplined and organised. Unfortunately all the wrong ideas of effort have muddied our thinking, almost beyond repair. Often, as a yoga teacher I am struggling to reprogramme people towards the idea of effort as a state of awareness .. not a tension, but a relaxed alertness.
So, while doing this fabulous pose called sayana astavakrasana (repose eight crooked limb pose) this concept struck me even more forcefully, in a moment of absolute epiphany. This is one of the toughest arm balances in my repertoire.
When you do this pose you tend to - wrongly -- take all the mental effort onto the shoulders. It is as if you jump headlong into the swimming pool without gauging the depth from where you should jump or finding out how deep the water is. In fact, I realised chunking awareness to each part of the body, eg towards the legs so they tautened and held up against gravity, then shifting the attention to the elbow to check it is placed right, you move your attention to the oblique muscle and then shift awareness towards the upper arm on which the thigh is resting. You actually lift from the oblique muscle and upper arm awareness. It is like a ballet inside your brain, a symphony of awareness unruffled by your excitement to ächieve" the pose. Then this idea of the right effort -- which is essentially a state of awareness, makes the pose feel superlight and achievable.
There is nothing to achieve. It is just BEING in the moment.
I have this tiny booklet called Simple Zen. It talks of the void. And how Indians were the first to stumble on this concept of shoonya/ emptiness. The zero in fact made mathematics possible. It freed the human intelligence from limitations of numbers. The idea of the Infinite in science was possible because of zero. In this recognition that "nothing"was "something".
In fact, the whole of our life is a journey, going back to realising this.
Aging and stress. Stress not only causes disease or aggravates existing one, it also ages you super fast. Here is how. You may have heard of telomeres. These are caps at the end of our chromosomes. They shield our chromosomes. But in those who are severely stressed (professions, caring for severely sick people) these begin to shrink. This in turn affects the rate at which DNA inside is copied and how fast our cells divide to create new ones. So, stress just wears these telomeres so bad that they are unable to support cell division which helps us remain younger inside.