A Softening of Force

The cursor was blinking, menacingly. My mind was still tangled from a day at the computer, and the organic chocolate bar I was nibbling had yet to rev up my creative juices. Almost bedtime, I’d been fighting exhaustion and lethargy all week, yet there I was — staring at the laptop, trying to deliver an eloquent — and hopefully cognizant — message for my beloved readers.

That’s when it hit me — Here I am, forcing again.

With a soft sigh of recognition, I closed the screen and then closed my eyes — trying to feel gratitude for the realization, rather than guilt for not soldiering on.

Like many personal revelations, this one emerged from my physical practice. Lying in savasana one day, after a particularly deep and lengthy home practice, I noticed a dull ache in the middle of my back. What’s going on? I thought. Savasana is supposed to feel great…. not painful! I shrugged it off, realizing I’d gone into some deep poses without an appropriate warm-up, and made a mental note to be more careful next time.

Raeanne in Eka Pada Rajakapotasana (Pidgeon)

Not too long after, I noticed an unusual soreness in my hamstring after another home practice — once again, I’d worked too hard, too fast. Almost simultaneously, I pulled a pectoral muscle in my chest, making it nearly impossible to perform a proper chaturanga. Hmm. I was beginning to notice a disturbing pattern.

Having never before been injured by yoga, I was extremely concerned. Was it my age? I did just turn thirty last year. Maybe I was beginning to lose my flexibility! Or maybe it was the teacher. She really shouldn’t have suggested that quad stretch so early in class… It wasn’t until I caught myself attempting chaturanga multiple times in class to see if “maybe this time it won’t hurt” that I realized I had no one to blame but myself.

I could hear my own voice echoing in my head:

“Listen to your body. What it needs today is different than what it needed yesterday… or last week… or last year.”

“Move slowly into your edge… that place where you feel challenged just enough.

How did I end up tuning out my own voice? Ignoring my body’s signals? Rushing through difficult postures despite the cry of my overworked and tweaked-out muscles?

These questions were at the brim of my conscience, and because the aches and pains had broadened my awareness, I began to notice that the same pattern I’d discovered on the mat was mirrored in my daily life: a pattern of forcing. With the great desire that had come from wanting to finish and launch this new website, I had been pushing myself much harder than usual. Suddenly I could see red flags everywhere: in the klutziness that had emerged from always rushing, the mindless eating that had disrupted my digestion, and from my own reflection in the mirror at bedtime: tired, bloodshot eyes from working all day — and then all night — on the computer.

Sometimes we need a fire alarm to wake us from our habitual haze. We are so deeply entrenched in a pattern of action, or so focused on a goal or feeling, that we lose our grasp on the present moment and the raw experience of right now.

Fortunately, my bloodshot eyes and achy body illuminated how attached I’d become to launching Yogatropic — so much so that I had grown numb to any feeling or sensation that would threaten my goal. My mind was so dialed ahead to the next item on the to-do list that I was literally not feeling the present; I injured myself because I wasn’t really there, in my practice. The continual grasping at the future had manifested itself into a total disconnect between my mind and my body. Wow.

Sometimes we need a fire alarm to wake us from our habitual haze. We are so deeply entrenched in a pattern of action, or so focused on a goal or feeling, that we lose our grasp on the present moment and the raw experience of right now.

What’s truly beautiful, though, is that yoga allowed me to uncover this truth about myself. Without my practice, I’m not so sure I would have recognized what was happening in my daily life. I’m continually reminded that the approach we take in our yoga poses is a direct reflection of the approach we take in our lives, and if we have the courage to slow down and examine what’s happening in our bodies and minds on the mat, it will magnify important lessons and revelations off the mat.

I will probably always be an overachiever that flirts with my own edges. But having been awakened to my own unhealthy tendencies, I’m gradually shifting back to a more attentive practice. My injuries are healed, and I’m learning to soften my expectations both in asana and in my day. Below, I’m sharing some of the ways I’m learning to cultivate deeper presence throughout this journey, so that you can recognize any forcefulness of your own, and redirect your intention toward a more rewarding, injury-free practice.

Softening the Edges in Your Practice

Injury is a clear indication that you’ve pushed beyond your limitations, but there are other, subtler signs that indicate it’s time to recalibrate your efforts.

Listen to your breath

It may seem obvious, but your breath is your direct line of correspondence to your body.

  • Throughout your practice, let your breath become the soundtrack, with each movement and transition choreographed to its natural rhythm.
  • In studio classes, move with your own breath, even if it means you are slightly out of sync with the instruction or other students.
  • Consider incorporating ujaayi pranayama, the breath of fire or “ocean-sounding” breath. By creating an audible sound with each inhale and exhale, it’s easier to literally tune in and connect to your breathing.
  • Pay extra attention to the space between your breaths, and see if you can soften the edges of each inhale and exhale so that your breath becomes one continuous, fluid circle. Notice when the circle is disrupted and the breath becomes short or jarring, and take that as a cue to back off until your breathing is smooth again.

Take the long way, then stroll for a while

If you imagine that each posture is like a mini road-trip, you realize that every pause and every transition is part of the journey.

  • Exaggerate your transitions by moving slowly and truly feeling the shifting of effort in your muscles and bones. Let the space between poses expand, and give them as much attention as the asanas themselves. Like any good road-trip, getting there is half the fun!
  • Remember that the shape of a pose is dynamic and always evolving. Instead of going immediately to your deepest expression of the pose, take 2 or 3 long breaths to get there. In fact, try to throw out any preconceived notions, like how far you went last time, what the guy next to you is doing, or how graceful the Yoga Journal cover model looked in her warrior. Try your best to be totally absorbed in what your body is feeling right now, as if it’s the first time you’ve ever been here.
  • Once you “arrive” inside your pose, stay for awhile and experiment with movement. Recently, at Kripalu, longtime Kripalu teacher Evelyn Gonzalez encouraged us to add slow, mindful movements to our poses. Swooping arm circles here, gentle pulses there. Follow your breath, and move in and out of the pose’s borders to avoid rigidity and locking the joints.

Bring joy to your practice (and your life!)

When you’re forceful, it’s likely you’re taking things — particularly expected outcomes — very seriously. A little bit of lightening up and laughter can be the ultimate medicine! Crank some music, watch a funny movie, call a good friend… whatever you do, I’ve found it’s essential to step away from work in order to keep perspective and appreciate the moment. If you’re grounded in activities and relationships that support you, it’s easier to enjoy the ride rather than focus solely on projections and goals.

And finally, part of lightening up means not forcing all of these changes all at once! Be kind to yourself, and if you see old patterns resurfacing, see it as a blessing that you’re now able to recognize these patterns and choose to change them. That alone is the beginning of personal transformation.

Raeanne Wright

Founder • Yoga Teacher, Web Designer

Raeanne Wright is the owner and creator of Yogatropic. A yoga instructor, web designer, and writer, she is happy to share her yoga musings, life lessons, and discoveries so that others may find a little peace and joy in their day.

  1. Oh my goodness Raeanne! You & I are very much in sync!! I just posted a blog about expectations & perfectionism & making lists. It is amazing how easily one makes expectations & how we thus so easily set ourselves up for failure! I have recently made a decision – thanks to my time at Kripalu – to work toward seeking joy rather than achievement, to honor sensation over thought, to pause rather than push. Once again your words are an affirmation to me & a guide to how I can open this experience to all parts of my life. Namaste my dear wonderful friend!!

    1. WOW. Jen, you are totally right, we are riding the same wavelength and it’s unreal how similar our stories are! It just completely confirms for me that there is so much validity to pushing the lists aside and making time to just BE. I am so glad you and Jake had a day out! Breakfast, the market, nature… Fresh Air! That sounds like the most perfect day, and I bet today you felt a sense of ease like never before :) Your words are so affirming and honest, and I am touched that the Kripalu experience was such a catalyst for this shift toward prioritizing Joy. I truly believe that if we can somehow commit to experiencing sensation fully, rather than being driven by achievement, we will organically get the “right” things done on our to-do lists and accomplish more than we ever thought possible. Namaste, darling! :)

  2. You know how to cut straight to the heart of me! Lists clutter my desk literally as I type and this week has blown by so quickly on a wave of insanity that I could have sworn that it was just Wednesday and, wow is it really May? Life has been a fog of craziness, and I crave this solitude you speak of ! I take the teeny moments that I get to myself (now:) and I try to make the most of them ( or least of them!) to give my brain and heart a rest. However, turning off the brain chatter is nearly impossible. sigh* I think I’ll go try some Yoga right now…love you:) and thanks for inspiring me!

    1. Hey sis! Having two kids at home certainly adds a whole other element to the situation which I am ill-equipped to factor in. But I can say that it does take time to develop a mindfulness practice, where you begin to recognize your own thought patterns and how they affect your mood and ability to accomplish things. We’ll have to talk about this next time we’re together. Miss you bunches… keep savoring those little moments of peace, and never forget to breathe… deeper!

      Rae Rae

  3. You amaze me with your writing,and ability to feel all around you. Although I can’t do yoga-you have inspired me to stretch every morning-and listen to the pain of my tennis elbow..lol I’m using the flex band at home. I do practice breathing when stressed out at work,even before I go in there! I love your website (glad I have a few moments to not care about everything I have to do on a day off..lol) I will share this with some friends of mine at work.who like me..need to slllowww down. Am proud of you ,and glad to be your Aunt.Love ya,Hugs Aunt Dee

    1. Thank you so much for your kind words, Aunt Dee! It means so much to me that you connected with my site and want to share it with your friends. We could all use a little bit more relaxation and conscious breathing in our lives. Pausing to breathe before and during the stressful times at work is always a good idea… it really does make a big difference.

      Love you bunches!! Hope to see you soon. xox
      Rae Rae

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"Living a yogatrōpic life means orienting yourself toward the practice, and letting it shift, shape, and inspire you to be your best self."

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