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!