Learning to Soften

“Knowing that enough is enough

   Is always

      Enough.”

Tao Te Ching - Lao-tzu

In a world where harder and faster is usually seen to be better, it can be very difficult to take a step back and slow down. Our minds are in constant overdrive, if we aren’t thinking about work, we’re thinking about what we’re doing after, if we get a moment to ourselves it is more often than not used to seek some kind of stimulation, whether that be using the phone, on social media, searching the internet etc. It is rare that our spare time is used to seek true space. Time for us to simply experience the moment – nothing more, nothing less.

We live in a society that is addicted to stimulation and unfortunately this stimulation isn’t sustainable to us. When we seek stimulation, as soon as we find it in whatever form, it soon comes to an end, we are then left to start off where we began, in seeking mode once again. This can be an endless cycle which creates habitual patterns of behaviour, even when we don’t want to conform to this behaviour, it is very difficult to break free from.  Here, tension  forms in the mind and body and the disconnection between the two deepens. We start to judge ourselves and compare ourselves to others, drawing imaginary boundaries around us. In a strange way, it becomes us against the world – lost and lonely we continue in the seemingly never ending cycle – never seeking true satisfaction.

It seems that the advice given to us in the West, if we want to achieve anything, is to go faster, go harder and be better. And to be better we have to go faster and work harder. There is only so long that this can last, as like a fast car, we have to stop at some point. Only the question is, how will we come to a stop. If we are lucky it will be with a realisation that we cannot keep on the way we are, if we are unlucky it will be with the body or mind screaming at us to stop and eventually crashing. The reality is you cannot have light without dark, yin without yang. We cannot have hard without soft, fast without slow. We have to give ourselves space to regenerate, we have to soften in the mind and body to help release any tension accumulated through our busy lives. We have to allow ourselves to be slow and steady and find balance. But how? We humans form patterns of behaviour very easily and can get stuck in them in a moments flash. If we are on overdrive most of the days we live, then how can we just stop and listen? It takes time and practice… at first when we stop we feel like we have to be doing something, we feel agitated and our minds cannot rest. After a while, it becomes easier, but it is a forever practice, one that will fluctuate depending on what is going on in our lives, but once you have it – you’ve got it with you forever. A forever friend, ready to help at any time.

When we move our awareness inward we start to find a different kind of stimulation. Instead of focusing on the external world we enter our internal world – here lies a magnitude of self-discovery, we begin the journey back to finding the connection between body and mind, shifting our focus to become more aware of our internal landscape. With this awareness we can better decipher how we are feeling, without judgement or expectation, we can move into the body and find a sense of space and stillness. Giving the mind space from thoughts, and allowing the mind and body to connect. Here is where softening comes in…

When we think about softness we maybe see it as some kind of weakness, something to avoid, something to mask. However, softening and softness hold so much power. When we come to our physical yoga practice, the practice of asana (postures) can be quite difficult, even if we are practicing yang (energetic) or yin (passive) yoga, at some point we will come across a posture which is uncomfortable for the mind and body, or this may be the feeling we have in every posture from start to finish. This is truly where our practice starts, as here we are presented with a choice. We can either block out the discomfort, allow our awareness to leave the body and go off into any other thought to try and get away from it, or we can enter it, we can go into the discomfort, we can feel and get to know it. When we allow ourselves to be, without changing anything, we find a softness. Once we allow the softening of the mind we are able to soften in the body, using breath and awareness, we can get to know the area of discomfort, we can go into it, explore and actually feel from the body instead of allowing the intellect of the mind to tell us about our experience. We can put thoughts to one side and simply feel. This softening may only last a few seconds before we start tensing up again but the more we practice, the easier it becomes to make the choice to soften.

Another way we can introduce softening in our practice is to welcome the practice of Ahimsa (non-violence, non-harm). When we move through our practice with kindness, we are more likely to observe from a place of non-judgement, being open to whatever we are feeling in that moment. With kindness we release expectation – with this we automatically soften, with nothing to have to live up to we can relax and go at our own pace. It is so very important not to push ourselves to our limit, always leaving space to breath into the posture instead of trying to go deeper, allowing thoughts to come and go as and when they do and not putting ourselves under any pressure to change anything. This allows our mind and body to soften, eventually we find we have the space then to melt into the posture, tension slowly releases as our awareness expands. When we come into the posture or move through our practice at 100%, then we aren’t leaving the body or the mind any room for exploration and discovery, we are at our limit and this usually means holding further tension, here the muscles and the mind tighten and it becomes ever harder for us to stay present. We need to pull back, be gentle and release. A practice which is alien to most, but can be the most rewarding and rich experience. When we show kindness to ourselves, we create more space to show genuine kindness to others, we are able to move through life at life’s pace taking each moment as it comes. We start to come into balance, living from a place of nourishment from within… sustainable, freeing, enriching.

Once we start to practice softening on our mats it is easier to take it into daily life. We have the space to take a step back and observe before getting fully involved in whatever it is we are about to experience. We become more aware of what is beneficial to us and what isn’t – using the space to help us decipher which thoughts and actions are going to heal or hinder. Being human means that our practice is never perfect, it also means that we are given the opportunity to learn from all of our experiences, we can then take forth all of our experience and learn from them when we are ready to. So, the next time you are practicing physical yoga, or if you wish you can practice from this very moment - simply move with kindness. Move through your day and/or practice with a softness, be gentle in thought and action and see what this beautifully infinite practice opens up for you.

If you would like to discuss your practice or share your experience please get in touch at info@chandrayogastudio.com

I hope you enjoy finding the beauty in inviting softness into your life. 

Sarah x

“Thus what I have called death of the ego transpires in the moment when it is discovered and admitted that these ultimate feelings are irresistible. They are ultimate in two senses: one, that they sometimes have to do with very fundamental and cataclysmic events, and, two, that they are sometimes our deepest, most radical feelings with respect to a given situation – such as the basic frustration provoked by a conflict between sorrow and shame. The point is that these ultimate feelings are as wise as all the rest, and their wisdom emerges when we give up resisting them – through the realisation that we are simply unable to do so. When, for example, life compels us at last to give in, to surrender to the full play of what is ordinarily called the terror of the unknown, the supressed feeling suddenly shoots upward as a fountain of the purest joy. What was formerly felt as horror of our inevitable mortality becomes transformed by an inner alchemy into an almost ecstatic sense of freedom from the bonds of individuality. But ordinarily we do not discover the wisdom of our inner feelings because we do not let them complete their work; we try to supress them or discharge them in premature action, not realizing that they are a process of creation which, like birth, begins as a pain and turns into a child.”

The Paradox of Self-denial – Alan Watts