Yoga can be easy and soft and at the same time challenging and intense, and that’s fantastic. We want a practice that we can progress with, grow into, and continue with every stage of our life. What we don’t want is to bring more tension and stress into our practice than we need. There are ways to collect more stress while going through your yoga that end up frustrating and no fun. There are also better ways to drop the stress and tension while practicing, allowing you to accomplish more as you progress and feel great during the process.
One of my favorite contributions from a Guide in our last Intensive was a realization moment she had. She said, “Wow, I am just realizing I don’t have to go through more pain to get over pain.” This was a profound moment, not only for her personal journey, but for how we approach our healing practices and how we approach leading others in life.
We can choose to see life as a big struggle, something we need to toughen up, grit our teeth and get through. Or we can choose to see life unfolds as a reflection of how we approach each moment. We can choose to approach challenge with bracing for impact and tension, or choose to approach with grace and ease. The second will get us much further, unleash our potential, and on a chemical level, help our body-mind to work for us in the process. We end up feeling great in the process. The first, well, we know that one well. We get more stress, run into walls, gain frustration and more tension, but accept this as part of life. On a chemical level our body-mind starts to shut down. We get tired, sick and break down. We need this better way. It doesn’t mean it’s all of a sudden easy, but there is a fantastic structure for practicing in an easy going way and aligning with yourself during the process. It’s called natural movement.
How to practice natural movement
One of the things I love about Eastern art forms like tai chi and qi gong – and why we created Strala the way we did – is you can be much better at them when you’re 40 than when you are 20, and again better when you’re 80 than when you are 40.
When we’re young, we have an option that isn’t so available to us when we’re older: we can use force against resistance in our body, to push ourselves where we need to go. But, this doesn’t mean we’re moving easily here. It just means we’re able to mask less capable movement more easily, by using strength rather than grace and coordination.
So while this is possible, it’s not a particular good idea. In Eastern thinking, this kind of force leads to unnatural movement, blocks our energy, and leaves us depleted. We become less able to accomplish our potential, and more open to injury and disease.
In Western language, using force against resistance – a mindset of no pain no gain – adds stress and tension to our bodies and minds. This can damage our bodies on a physical level. Even more impactful, it harms us on the level of our neurology and chromosomes – we age faster – and our microbiome: stress can unbalance us here in a single day. This leads to a cascade of problems, including anxiety and depression, poor digestion and obesity, and decreased heart and bone health.
So it’s important to find a better way to move, at every age. It’s important to learn how to release the stress and tension that inhibits us, come into harmony with our whole self, and reconnect with our nature, to move in the most efficient and effective way possible. When we’re older, this means we’ll still be able to move capably, when force is no longer an option. And wherever we are, it means we’ll create the right conditions for optimal health, and achieving our own best potential, in everything we do.
Now let’s talk about how to practice.
There’s a choice that comes up here, that has something to do with how we approach our everyday life, and in particular, how we approach challenge. Is our best approach different, when there is a bigger problem, or a more difficult challenge? Does natural movement – letting the stress go, and doing more with less effort – only work when things are easy? Do we need to kick in and push hard to get anywhere good when things are truly hard?
Or is it the opposite? When things are easy, we can do things any way we want. We can work much too hard, and move entirely from force, but we still get it done. It’s different when things get hard. We’re only able to do what we’ve practiced when things are easy. If we practiced working too hard, we’ll be good at working too hard, using too much effort to do too little. This won’t get us very far when things are truly difficult. But, if we practiced working easily, then we’ll know something, about ourselves. We’ll know how to move easily through challenge.
The bigger the obstacle, the more important it is to move softly, using less effort. When you resist the universe, the universe resists you back. The impossible only becomes possible when we learn to move naturally and easily through challenge.
At some point, for every person, the obstacle is so big that going to war with it won’t work. Force is not an option. So wherever our starting point may be, eventually as human beings, we all find this place. Whether we are big or small, mobile or immobile, super-athletes or not athletes at all, we all find this point in our lives, where pushing and forcing just isn’t an option. It doesn’t feel good, all this stress. It injures us. And it doesn’t get us where we want to go. So from here, we get to find a better way.
Begin at the beginning, and move naturally from here.
The beginning is where you are comfortable, whether standing or sitting, on hands and knees, or lying down. From here, follow the 11 principles of natural movement. Soften, slow down, and breathe deep, enough that you have a chance to feel. Create a connection between your body and your breath, so they work in agreement with each other. And move from your middle, not your mind, and not your extremities. The next 8 principles of natural movement follow, so keep using them to get from one place to another. Put this in your own body, in how you are, and in how you move, through everything. You can help others from what you have yourself.
Of course this isn’t natural at first, because it’s not what we’ve practiced. We practice working much too hard, to do even simple things. We use force to batter down obstacles, rather than coordination and grace to move easily around them. This isn’t unique to any particular group of people. It has nothing to do with being too big or too small, too old or too young, too stuck or too flexible. This is about being human. And we’ve led our lives from a belief: that you can’t get much of anywhere good without a struggle. Of course, it’s a myth. We hold ourselves back from what we are, in this way. So we change the belief. From here, everything becomes possible.
When someone is young and full of muscle, they have the option to do things by using strength. Of course, this isn’t the best way. They won’t be able to do as much. But it’s possible for them, to use force against resistance. For someone who is older, less agile, or less movable, it’s even more important to learn coordinated, graceful movement – because it’s simply the only way that movement can happen without pain and discomfort. Eventually, it’s the only way movement can happen at all.
We all have this potential, to let stress go from our body’s and our minds. We all have this potential, to do much more, with much less. It’s inside of us. It’s in our nature, to be more than we imagine. Begin at the beginning.
Here is a simple practice to get going. Enjoy and stay easy.