The most appropriate effort (prayatna) involves a release (śaithilya) which leads to merging (samāpattibhyām) with the unlimited (ananta).
PRACTICAL LIVING Last week we discussed the definition of āsana (posture) – the perfect balance between effort and relaxation. In this sūtra Patañjali explains that the practice of āsana in this balanced way leads us to experience an effortless effort, helping us transition from focusing only on the body (a more superficial layer) to tapping into something more subtle deep inside (ananta).
We spend a lot of our time worried about how we look (hair, clothes, makeup, cellulite, stretch marks, muscle tone, body hair, fat…), what others think of us, or how intelligent/funny/beautiful/powerful we are. Patañjali is telling us here that with continuous practice of effort and surrender (in body, breath and mind), we begin to let go of those external concerns and our focus shifts inward. As this change happens, we experience a release of unnecessary tensions and have more moments of expansion, of clarity, and a sense of widening our horizons. In yoga, it is said that when we experience ananta, it means we’ve transcended the limited boundaries of the body and mind and understand the eternal spaciousness of the soul.
IN THE YOGA WORLD In Indian mythology, ananta is a thousand-headed divine serpent, a symbol of infinite consciousness. A very well known image in Hinduism depicts ananta (also known as Adishesha), holding the entire Universe on its head (therefore needing a lot of strength) while providing Vishnu (one of the three main Indian Gods in Hinduism) with a comfortable bed for him to rest on. Frans Moors says that as we master the balance of firmness and softness and turn inward, we develop the following ananta-like qualities:
- Peace and serenity – our worries cease to be dominant and we experience ease.
- Comfort and pleasure – we allow ourselves to live joyfully without shame or guilt.
- Vitality and endurance – with the body being in a state of balance, we have the necessary physical and mental energy to live vibrantly.
- Protection – the body and mind become shields against any impurities.
- Wisdom – the thousand heads represent teachings that we are ready to receive and embrace.
- Concentration – we are able to focus for long periods of time without getting distracted (the senses are constantly pulling us outward).
- Courage – the ability to live with an open heart despite feeling fear.
Being like a divine serpent sure sounds good to me!
If you are an āsana practitioner, I encourage you to bring your attention to the qualities of alertness and relaxation, of effort and ease while moving, while breathing and while thinking. A practical tip: always follow your breath, it’s much wiser than your mind and body 🙂 If your spiritual practice involves something other than āsana, check in with yourself on those qualities as well. We tend to be physically tense, mentally uptight and emotionally, well, a little crazy. How about instilling the conscious practice of physical softness, mental detachment and emotional surrender?
Karambelkar suggests we meditate on an expansive object like the ocean or the sky. And if that’s too abstract, then visualize yourself being a log floating on the ocean, being carried by the ocean’s endless currents. Or if you prefer the air element, visualize yourself like a kite or a feather, flying and being taken by the air currents.
INSPIRATIONAL PERSON For the past two months I’ve been driving 10 hours on weekends to study the magic of prenatal Yoga with a beautiful human being: Stacy. Teaching āsana to pregnant women has so much to do with these two qualities of effort and surrender. Stacy embodies those qualities as a teacher. Her devotion to the miracle of life is inspiring! Her graceful and soft nature make you feel at ease, while her earthiness makes you feel grounded. Thank you dear Stacy for guiding me through this journey with so much devotion and love!
Do you have any experiences you would like to share? Please interact as much as you like – everyone will learn from your personal experiences!
Thanks and next week we will discuss the consequences of balancing firmness and softness!
I love this! One of my favorite meditations is to sit outside in an open field or grassy area and meditate with and on the wind. I start the meditation by closing my eyes and calming my mind and my body with my breath. When I feel ready, I mentally thank the wind for carrying seeds to barren earth, for dispersing the scent of flowers through the air. I thank the wind for carrying the clouds of rain on its back to nourish the ground and for the sound it makes trickling through my hollowed out wind chimes. I offer it respect, knowing that its power can split a tree in two, blow a car off of the road or level a home to the ground. I invite it to reach out to me. I notice the push of its force and the tickle it makes when it plays with my pulled back hair. I become aware of the warmth of the sun that travels through as it skips across my bare shoulders in a child-like fashion. Then I ask if I can ride on its back or follow it along. This is where my body disappears. Still seated and with my eyes closed, my energy merges with the wind and I travel through each blade of grass. Side by side, I race the birds in the sky. The wind takes me up the side of a tree and together we rustle the leaves of the maple allowing the sunlight to filter through the openings between the leaves. When the wind brings me home, I am peaceful, pleasure-filled. I feel protected by the force of nature and so much wiser. My mind is clear and I feel as courageous as a lion because I surrendered to the power of something so big and powerful.
The thought of this kind of peace in life is so inspiring to me. I do find myself caught up in the day to day struggles that get us nowhere and are meaningless in life as a whole. Melissa, your discussion above has really inspired me. I see the peace in you that you have put into words above. I hope that while on this Yoga path, this kind of peace becomes more real in my life on a daily basis. Love to all of the gals in this journey together.
It has been through my daily yoga practice that I have been able to truly hear my inner voice and be totally aware of my behaviors and reactions. It is almost as though my inner voice cries out to my heart, not loudly but continually until I acknowledge it, listen and let go of whatever my crazy mind has attached to! This isn’t always easy and I have to admit sometimes it takes a while to release my mind from it’s prison, but as I gradually let go, amazing courage is able to break through my doubts,fears and attachments.
I love the idea of visualizing myself as a hawk in flight, my tail fanned wide and my wings so broad, gliding effortlessly with the wind, soaring higher, yet with such ease, never having to flap my wings…..haaaaa…… finding balance. This is a meditation I will try and add to my yoga practice.
My favorite part of practice is the breath. It sounds funny to say, but I have longed to learn how to breath for years. I embrace the breath in meditation and practice. It takes me far away, relaxes me, and makes me feel strong all at the same time. Although I might not be at a place where I practice poses daily I do find I use my breath daily whether it be when I am trying to fall asleep or calm myself from stress or just take a break to check in with myself. I can tap into all Ananta-like qualities when breathing. I love it!