We are all incredibly practiced at working harder, pushing though, going the extra mile, and in the words of the famous Nike slogan, just doing it. We also receive kudos, praise, promotions, and pats on the back for these things. Taking action and working hard is absolutely necessary and essential for engaging in the world, and stepping into our full potential.
But it’s only half of the story.
Just as essential to our well-being and our success, is the more subtle practice of softening, releasing, resting, letting go, and being. Yet these practices certainly don’t get noticed, or reinforced externally in the same way. This is one of the reasons these practices are difficult, overlooked, and deemed “not as important”. (How many times in your home yoga practice have you skipped savasana because you had so much to do and wanted to get going? I’m definitely guilty of this!)
Pantajali’s Yoga Sutra 2:46 sthira sukham asanam, means to practice the physical postures of yoga (asanas) with effort and stability combined with grace and ease. When one can achieve a posture with these opposing qualities both body and mind feel centered and light. In the yoga practice we learn to simultaneously be strong and relaxed, grounded and open, focused and detached, all experiences that translate beautifully into our life.
If we have a life full of constant effort, there is no ease, little pleasure and, often, high stress levels and poor health. If we have a life full of ease, there is no effort or motivation to make things happen. Our work is to figure out how to find the place in the middle.
I wager that for most of us, we have more challenge around learning to soften and move into a space of ease. Sitting down to meditate, or allowing ourselves space to breathe and just be, isn’t as comfortable or natural, as moving through our task list for the day.
Case in point. Recently, an article was published in Science where in a series of experiments 800 participants were given a quiet room in which to sit for 15 minutes. They were told that also in the room was a button and if they touched it, they would receive a shock. The challenge of sitting alone in a quiet room was so great, that 2/3 of men touched the button and 1/4 of women did. One participant pressed the button 190 times over the course of 15 minutes. Wow!
This study shows that for many of us, we are more uncomfortable being with ourselves and our internal experience for 15 minutes than we are receiving physical pain. Because I meditate, I totally get this! Sitting with myself for 15 minutes and watching my neurotic mind jump from thought to thought can be painful! Additionally, sitting still and coming to face to face with the anxiety and angst that we push down by our constant “doing” is some of the hardest work we might do.
But there are benefits to sitting still with yourself for 15 minutes: lower blood pressure, lessening of tension, improved mood, stronger immune system, more energy, decreased anxiety, sounder sleep, more creativity, peace of mind, a sharper mind, and expanded consciousness. Much better than a shock….