While I was in class one day, a yoga teacher announced that people tend to be drawn toward certain kinds of practices. For some, a home practice may include lots of sun salutations, challenging arm balances and inversions. For others, gentle restoratives and supine stretches may reign. Sometimes, she suggested, it may be beneficial to challenge yourself with an asana practice outside of your typical comfort zone. Familiar with a very restful home practice, I looked around the room, attempting to identify those in class with me who would choose chatarunga over child’s pose. It seemed unfathomable. To my surprise, it seemed that almost half of the class nodded their heads in recognition of their proclivity toward vigorous asana. Huh, I thought, it really does take all kinds…
When I was pregnant, I delighted in being able to sit out during particular sequences. As others transitioned from navasana to ardha navasana, I gleefully settled into baddha konasana, internally thanking my belly and my baby for the reprieve. I love naps, go to bed at a reasonable hour, immerse myself easily in both baths and books. Not naturally an athlete, I was drawn to swimming when I was younger because it was fluid and quiet – introspective, even. I love when my children want to draw or read and am less thrilled when their choice activity involves running or, if I’m honest, any kind of major movement.
In every physical sense, it would seem I am well-acquainted with ease. Comfortable with comfort. Perhaps that’s a result of the mental gymnastics my brain is capable of performing at any given moment. My monkey mind is an adept one, well-versed in overthinking any given situation, running a problem or worry into the ground. So, while my body may be good at ease, my mental capability for rest is questionable.
So, I come back to that sutra I mentioned in my last post: sthira sukham asanas. Yoga is a balance of both effort and ease. And, while all of us seek balance in yoga, in pregnancy, in motherhood, in life, that balance of those energies looks different depending on our own proclivities, as well as our interaction with the external influences present in our lives at any given moment. The sutra’s sentiment is universal; its practice is not.
In your first trimester, it may require an inconceivable amount of effort to do much more than eat grilled cheese on the couch while watching HGTV. Your body is already working overtime – forcing yourself to vigorously practice asana for an hour and a half would definitely contradict the essence of sutra 2.46. Counter to that (and not currently pregnant), I’ve spent the past few months learning to jog. When I began, the briefest run was an overexertion. Admittedly, I stretched the truth a bit when a triathlete friend of mine asked me during my first month of training about my longest running distance. “Oh, about a mile,” I answered. Give or take 3/4 mile. Running a few hundred yards, at that point, was incredibly challenging for me. I would look at my watch, shocked when only a minute or two had passed. Now, though, while no triathlete myself, I am able to run for 20 or 25 minutes at a time – a feat I never would have believed possible several months ago. I have found that the mental ease that the physical effort provides is well worth the challenge. While not classic asana, I link my movement to my breath, focus on the moment, and create a bit more space between my ears. Regardless of how “easeful” my day has been physically, if my mind is restless and anxious, running can provide me with a sense of calm unmatched by a restorative yoga practice.
Finding a state of equilibrium is consistently challenging, because so much of what is required to maintain it is constantly shifting. This is particularly true during pregnancy and, as I am always discovering, motherhood. We (I) must also be careful not to confuse inertia with a sense of ease, or rest. Just because a body at rest wants to remain at rest, does not necessarily mean that this state is one that will be the most eventually harmonious. And so, in order to achieve any semblance of balance, a good deal of introspection, self-knowledge, and honesty is also required. All of which, ta-da!, can be further honed through the practice of yoga.
Whether today requires an intense session on the mat, or a hearty bowl of Ben and Jerry’s and an 8 p.m. bedtime, I wish you steadiness and comfort, and a good deal of ease after the efforts of your day.