Another day in the magnificent Tuscan Valley, took our yoga group to the city of Siena, famous for being the rival to the city of Florence. We encountered the incredibly unique Siena Duomo (Cathedral) and the "candy-striped" marbled architecture of this gothic monument. A light caprese salad and bubbly water was enjoyed in the Piazza il Campo with a clear view of the Palazzo Pubblico. And of course, a refreshing gelato to complete the day's excursion.
In light of the struggle that Florence and Siena experienced as rival cities for many years, I am also reminded of the struggle that I place on myself at times. When I practice yoga, and even sometimes when I teach yoga, there is an element of pushing or working hard. The goal, though, is not to strain or hurt the body. The intention is to move through blockages of the mind and body, revealing that you are capable of reaching your fullest potential even when there are challenges in front of you. In addition to this intention, it is also important to be light, kind, and gentle on the body/mind during the yoga practice. There is the effort, as my yoga instructor stated, to move into the pose, but also the settling and softening into the posture. The intention is to get there, then BE there. As I'm reminded of this wonderful lesson, I have been moving more slowly and gently in my yoga practice during this retreat. Rather than moving full steam ahead, I have held back a bit to experience the softer side of the practice to truly experience a sense of Being in the Moment rather than forcing my body into the moment.
This may seem like an odd analogy, but I am reminded of a particular season of "The Celebrity Apprentice" where Lou Ferrigno (he's Italian, right) was one of the celebrity contestants. (For those who don't know or don't remember, he is most famous for his television depiction of the Incredible Hulk back in the 1980's). Whenever, Lou Ferrigno found himself on the losing team and defending his actions in front of Donald Trump, he would often and regularly say, "I gave it 110%." I find this an interesting way to describe one's efforts. That in order to convey that your efforts were good enough, you have to go beyond 100% and give it 110%. It suggests going beyond your limits in order to show your best.
As mentioned, my yoga instructor at the retreat, offered another way to approach the yoga practice. Arrive at each pose more gently and kindly. Perhaps arrive at 60%. I applied this idea to my practice by moving slowly, modifying my poses, and not overextending my body in order to sufficiently, yet successfully, arriving at the pose. The result was wonderful. My body felt just as opened and challenged as if I had given the whole 110%. The results were the same and I would have to say.....better!
When you arrive at your next yoga practice, I offer the invitation to scale it back from your normal routine. Instead of pushing toward the 110%, try dialing it back to 60%. (That's a full 50% discount on your practice, but receiving a 100% quality product at the end.) Use props like blocks and straps to support your yoga poses, move more slowly, or just simply modify your posture and see how you feel afterward.
Take a pose like Side Angle Pose. When you see a picture of this posture, you see the yogi with legs wide (creating a 90 degree angle in the front leg), the corresponding hand planted palm-down on the floor while the opposite hand extends (as if with no effort at all) straight up or overhead. One can easily modify the pose and experience great benefit of the posture without pushing the body into the position depicted in Yoga Journal Magazine.
Try Side Angle Pose with a shorter stance. (Perhaps the left foot is in front in this lunging posture.) The angle of the front leg does not need to be 90 degrees. Rest your left arm lightly on top of the left thigh so your body can open easily in this hip opening posture. Your right hand can reach upward toward the sky. Breathe into your hips, inner thighs, and the right side of your body. Remain here for 5-10 breaths. Repeat the same modified pose on the other side.
I think it is ok to scale back at times. I think we are encouraged and maybe even pushed sometimes to give it our all...ALL THE TIME! Try applying a lighter touch to your tasks. Take your time when you do simple things like driving to work, making dinner, or speaking with others. The result may be the same...or even better using this technique rather than becoming the Incredible Hulk 110% of the time.
Written July 25, 2013 in Italy.