The Art of Equanimity
At the heart of the 5,000 year old tradition of yoga….is the art of equanimity. The balance between effort and ease.
When I came to yoga 23 years ago this was a foreign concept to me. Relaxed effort? Growing up in the US with the societal influence of the puritan work ethic, I came by a hard work ethic honestly, with the ingrained societal pressure to succeed. As a beginning yoga student, my first few years of yoga was one of striving. Striving to make up for lost time, to become healthier, to become a better person, to be more spiritual, to make a positive impact on the world, and hard dedicated work is what I needed to do to get to where I needed to be. I found moments of ease in places like child's pose and Savasana, yes, but overall, to be honest…even though I had good intentions, my quest to become better was creating imbalance and as a beginner student I wasn’t really understanding the true essence the art of equanimity.
Often this pervasive force goes largely unacknowledged in yoga and in life. The demands of society and the culture of striving so often get mapped onto our yoga practice. While effort is needed and required, inner and outer striving will make us feel that we fall short in our capacities, increase judgement of ourselves, and feed frustration and stress.
On the map of classical yoga and the Eight Fold Path, “right effort” is central to yoga practice and life and emphasizes the importance of not pushing too hard on one hand and not conceding to torpor on the other.
The Art of Equanimity in yoga practice is the balance of effort and ease within every pose, every pranayama, every meditation. Too much effort and the pose becomes rigid and clenched. If there is too little effort the pose becomes lax or inattentive. The same is true for pranayama and meditation.
This all will require moment to moment awareness and kind internal communication. I’ll emphasize kind internal communication here. Listening to the respiratory rhythms, stretch sensations, and our internal feedback systems we can ask ourselves, “Am I pushing too hard?” “Am I too passive?” How can I recalibrate my compass back to what Taoist's call the “middle way’. Equanimity.
Maybe you can relate to my early days of yoga and the challenge of this eastern way of thinking to live the art of equanimity and follow the middle path. Yoga will always meet you were your starting from though….if we let it. It’s a journey that, through practice, takes us closer and closer to our true nature….an ancient path to….self realization, not a path on seeing how good we can do downward dog or warrior one and the like.
Yoga is not a practice we simply do on our mat, but yoga begins once we step off our mat and enter back out into life. Taking this art of equanimity into our lives is essential for our well-being. We can take this equanimity into all that we do, our exercise, our sports, raising our children, working with a difficult person, and communicating with others. When we are “off balance” and push too hard in our life and with our relationships, we are prone to stress, anxiety, and exhaustion. Or on the other hand, when we don’t exert enough energy into our life and don’t apply ourselves as we should, we may not be realizing or living to our full potential.
As you bring the art of equanimity off your mat and into your life, note occasions that you are forcing, where there is impatience and how does that feel in your body, your belly, your face, jaw, and your breath? Also note times that you don’t put enough effort into being present, your spacey or lax and your not exploring your full potential for the stage of life that your in. With cultivated moment to moment awareness, start to adjust the compass back to equanimity through compassion centered mindful asana practice, pranayama and meditation.
After over 20 years of yoga practice and meditation….I understand this concept now and it is TRULY a GIFT. Effort with Ease. But it is still a practice for me. Its not like “Oh I got it” and can move on. My compass often goes off to be the over striver again or torpor sets in and I get lazy. I come back to my practice again and again to recalibrate my compass back to the “middle way” through asana, pranayama and meditation.
May your yoga practice be one that supports the art of equanimity for you on and off your mat and in your life. Find that skillful play and delicate balance of alertness and ease, resiliency and yielding.