The yoga sutras say that the poses we make in our yoga practice should dance the balance of effort and ease. We don't want to over effort in them..trying to make them perfect, exerting too much muscular force, pushing past the edge, etc. We also do not want to fall asleep the poses ie: checking out, holding back, fearful of not getting it right, staying way below the edge in our comfort zone..etc. For my journey with yoga, I have been attempting to pull the dance back from the over effort spectrum. I can see that I have made some progress but just as soon as I notice that, then I am noticing again where is still alive and thriving within me.
Just the other day, after a frustrating moment of realizing how difficult this balance is and how often hard it is to practice my aspirations it hit me why sometimes it feels so hard. We all come to the mat because some amount of resistance has caused us to "wake up" to realize we have a preference for a state different from the one in which we are standing. Maybe we want to be more flexible, we want to reduce our stress, we need more strength, we feel we need to exercise...anything that drew you is wonderful and valid. Our preferences are real and we all have them. I went to yoga because I realized I needed to be more flexible and less stressed. It got me in the door and I could not be more thankful for that. The slippery slope though is when we use yoga as the "self help" tool and allow the ego to navigate the process. Yoga was never designed to be a self help tool so that we improve ourselves and be better people. Yoga is a remembering tool to allow us to remember our natural state. Our natural state is flexibility, balance, peace, joy, strength, connection....anything that most of us desire. Most of what all of our aspirations distill down to is becoming truly connected and present to our larger Self..not our identity. You may say, yes but my body will never be really flexible..and I believe that unfortunately we have become inundated with photos of what flexibility should look like and what strength should look like. Who says we all need to put our foot behind our head? Who says we all need to do handstand on one arm? Who really defined that definition for us besides what we saw as the model based on others experience. I am not saying you cannot aspire and one day do anything that you practice but I guess the larger question is why are you doing it? Do you think this will make you happy? More at ease with life? A better person? A real yogi?
Turning my realization full circle, I realized that in my aspiration to allow more ease into my asana practice I became aware that I also needed to invite that balance of effort and ease into my aspiration. I cannot allow my ego mind to tell me how much effort I need to make my body more flexible. It is like saying that dumping lots of yellow food coloring into water will yield lemon-aid. Actually, they are not born of the same substance although they do both share a common denominator..water (practice). I actually need to surrender more to my inflexibility and my over efforting and just practice being conscious and present with myself in my current state...realizing that yes, my current state is at times over effort and inflexibility but that I cannot over effort my way back to my natural state. I must just see myself as I am and become so aware and awake to myself without bringing in the extra ingredients such as yellow food coloring (ego effort) that are not needed. The more accepting and awake (the practice part) I am in my current state the more these roadblocks can crumble away. I need to be more like a scientist..observing myself without trying to change it but really to just become more compassionate and accepting of my state. Not that I do not want to change it but if my change comes naturally through making conscious decisions that are kind and loving to myself then that is different that being like a dog trainer to myself. Dog trainer self would see my behavior, deem it is as "bad", not desirable, not acceptable, needing to change and will try to change it through ego/mind means hence for me over efforting for other maybe giving up or closing your eyes. If I can find ease in myself and where I am right now then ease is already in my body and I will not have to strive so hard to find it in asana or anywhere else for that matter.
I think this is why the yoga sutras tell us to do yoga (live life) with practice and detachment (surrender). We practice opening our eyes to what is.. and then we surrender into it with full attention and arms open to embrace it. It is through this means that we are able to start to move towards our heart felt aspirations...real and lasting connection to ourself and others and to feeling alive!