We live in a society of doing. We walk as disembodied heads; analyzing, ruminating, scheduling, calculating. Time and effort expended towards achievement is revered and rewarded, and struggle has come to be equated with success. Without it, we fear we will fail.
The struggle syndrome is the mentality that overexerting and sacrifice are necessary for achievement. I’ve seen this mindset walk into the yoga studio countless times, and it couldn’t be more counterproductive to a fulfilling yoga practice.
On a purely physical level, over effort can knock us out of balance, cause tightness of breath and unnecessary tension, and prevent entrance into more advanced asanas. When we are more relaxed, our breath is long and deep. We see this in sleeping babies and animals. When a full breath is cultivated we can find stability, strength, and flexibility, which stem from the increase in oxygen circulating in the blood, the deeper relaxation of the muscles, and the stimulation of the parasympathetic nervous system. Aren’t those qualities exactly what we are looking for in our practice?
Spiritually speaking, we connect more deeply to our most authentic selves when we use the relaxed, unrestricted breath to gently reach out to all that we are. Connecting to our bodies is also spiritual. It is only through the redevelopment of our physical intuition that we can truly listen to and fulfill our own needs. That requires breath, and the use of feeling rather than thinking. It requires us to come out of judgment and analysis and struggle and turn within to observe, with fascination and wonder, the interplay of breath and body. It also demands that we recognize a larger journey rather than wishing for instant gratification. Losing sight of that larger path fuels the need to wrestle and struggle on the mat and in life.
In that same way, our excessive effort in connecting to ourselves, our body, our spirit, or our breath actually prevents what we’re aiming for. Because the practice of yoga is not an acquisition. There’s no such thing as doing yoga. It’s a practice, which requires breath, patience, and feeling. It requires curiosity, playfulness, and space so the breath has room to roam in the body, creating poses from the inside out.
The movement of the breath creates feeling, and we can walk through the world without the disconnected numbness caused by the “doing” of struggle. In feeling we can actually live our lives, truly be in them, present and alive in every moment. And that is the gift of yoga.