Many years ago I came across an intriguing quote from the great woman saint of India, Ananda Moyi Ma, in which she was commenting on Hatha Yoga, describing it as “doing by force.” At first, I was taken aback and definitely puzzled. Her description seemed to have very little to do with what I had presumed about Hatha Yoga, especially from the perspective of Ananda Yoga, since our emphasis is on relaxation, both as a primary focus, and also as a key tool. The idea of “force” seemed to have no place at all in how I viewed Hatha Yoga. But trusting both Paramhansa Yogananda and Swami Kriyananda in their deep respect of this “Joy Permeated Mother” as being a highly evolved yogi-saint, I knew I had to dig deeper to mine the hidden gold in her message.
After searching some more, I came across other quotes from Ananda Moyi Ma that put the first quote into perspective and helped me understand what she was really getting at. The two quotes were:
Sustained effort ends in effortless being.
One must enter into the rhythm of one’s own true nature.
Understanding this in a deeper way, it became clear that the use of “force” was not one of compelling or “pushing” one’s body into a yoga pose. I realized that the emphasis was rather on the need to be actively engaged.
Another way to understand this is that we need to use our will as an essential component for yoga to become our reality. The point is that we cannot just slide our way into bliss but rather, it will take all our dedicated energy to arrive at our goal in yoga: union with the Divine.
True Relaxation Takes Focus
This made me appreciate the similar emphasis that Yogananda gave to the practice of yoga, with his axiom, “the greater the will, the greater the flow of energy.” In his Energization Exercises, he gave us the instruction, “tense with will, relax and feel.” In light of this approach and of my own experience of Yoga, as well as teaching others, I’ve come to a deeper understanding of what relaxation is, and how we achieve it. Simply put, it requires dynamic focus!
The moment we become passive in relaxation, i.e. slipping into the subconscious and letting our minds wander in restless thoughts or drifting into daydreaming, we actually diminish our level of relaxation. In contrast to this, Yogananda stated that we should be “calmly active and actively calm,” meaning that we need to be centered in calmness while in the midst of activity, and then be dynamic in our calm and relaxed states.
This phrase from Yogananda ties in with Ananda Moyi Ma’s quote, “sustained effort ends in effortless being,” and also helps us in understanding how we should approach yoga and in this case, the yoga postures. Let’s apply this to how we stretch in the various postures so we can see this as a practical application.
Using Will in Asana Practice
When we move into a yoga pose, we are using our “will” to open up and extend into a stretch. In effect, this extension is “doing by force,” or “tensing with will.” We’re engaging the body but more significantly, we’re engaging the energy in the body, as well as the mind and our awareness. We don’t want to just leave the emphasis solely on the extension; we also want to progress at this point into relaxing deeper in the pose. This is the “relax and feel” phase or, referring back to Ananda Moyi Ma’s comment, how we achieve “effortless being.”
It might be good to clarify that we’re not passive in this relaxing phase of the pose. Remember the words, “actively calm.” We need to open up to a dynamic state of relaxation and not just “hang out” in a casual way. As we relax into the stretch, we want to engage in deep, smooth, breathing, i.e. diaphragmatic breathing. We also want to focus our awareness through the use of mental affirmations. This leads us into a deepening stillness. In this approach, we achieve the perfection of asana, regardless of how far we can stretch into the pose.
As we come out of the stretch, we again engage in extension. From there, we flow into a rest pose before moving onto the next stretch. When we rest between the different poses it’s important to understand that these are more than passive pauses in our routine. They are really an integral part of the deeper aspect of yoga since they allow us the opportunity to assimilate our experiences from the stretches. It is in these rest points that we are more able to dive into the superconscious.
Yoga is the unfolding of who we really are, not the creating or adding on to who we are.
Finding a Higher Rhythm
In my own experience of yoga, I’ve come to understand and value the significance of the quote, “One must enter into the rhythm of one’s own nature.” This inner connection shifts yoga from something we “do” to something we “are.” Yoga is the unfolding of who we really are, not the creating or adding on to who we are.
When we truly engage in yoga by actively tuning into the energy flow within us, whether it be stretching in a pose, walking down a street, sipping a cup of tea, or talking with someone, we open up to our inner qualities of joy, love, peace, calmness, power, and wisdom. And these qualities, which are the rhythm of our own true nature, become more manifest in every moment of our lives.
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