This reflection is centred around our yoga, movement, breathwork, and meditative practice and how it all ties in with our daily lives.
Having participated in more active and forceful yoga methods for decades and teaching them as well, I now find myself taking a step back and offering much more mindful and slower styles, and I can see the benefits of doing less.
When we first start practising any physical exercise or yoga practice, we tend to throw ourselves into it using the most of ourselves, sometimes even beyond our limits.
This is all right; it is part of the learning process that comes with frustrations, upsets, and sometimes injuries. It is natural to want to push the boundaries and seek “perfection” to see if we can achieve what our ego wants us to succeed.
Our brain is the leading cause of our struggles and suffering on our yoga mat or meditation cushion. It is easily influenced by what seems to be good for us in our practice, according to outside resources and the opinion of others.
Evaluating what is truly good for us is often wrong. Our brain has an unfortunate ultimate power over what the body and the breath need to do to achieve these unreachable and unrealistic goals. After a long process of negative experiences, injuries, and feeling unfulfilled, we may start to feel stuck on our journey, and the reality of our true self and practice is lost.
I vividly remember the day I decided to stop pushing myself. I was attending a popular yoga teacher’s workshop in a famous London Yoga studio known for its robust, pushy, and challenging yoga method. I pushed through the event like a warrior but honestly struggled.
The day after, my body and nervous system reprimanded me with cold sores, backaches, fatigue, low energy, and moodiness for days. I realised it was not the teacher’s fault but mine, and it was time to slow down and find practices that suited my body and this new mindset that suddenly appeared to me.
I knew that adopting a new approach and mindset would present challenges, but I soon realised that it would also offer many new skills and experiences. Instead of fearing the unfamiliar, my curiosity took over, and I embraced the concept of doing less.
Understanding that yoga, movement, breathing, and other mindfulness practices are designed to promote self-discovery and help us learn about ourselves is crucial. If we’re committed to this reflective and altruistic approach, simply pushing through our practice is just the beginning. Once we’ve realised this, we must let go of our previous system and make room for our next self-work stage.
Doing less enables us to confront our true nature, receive more, and learn from the experience.
Seven tips for practising “doing less”.
First, before you read this, I recommend you to learn how to implement the concepts below one at a time. Take the time to meditate on them and explore them slowly and not all at once.
Those tips are effective in all moving, breathing, and meditating practices.
1. Take the time to arrive and relax the body.
Buddha recognised the importance of understanding and preparing the body before engaging in subtle practices such as breath awareness or meditation. Without feeling at ease in one’s body, undertaking such practices effectively can be challenging. Therefore, it is crucial to connect with the body through gentle touches and movements at the beginning of the practice. Familiarising oneself with the body’s current state allows for informed decisions about the appropriate type and intensity of practice.
2. Connect with the natural breath and use exhalation.
Connecting with our natural breath is crucial in this process because the unconscious act of breathing slows down when the body is quiet. Once the body is settled and relaxed, take the time to connect with the simplicity of your breath and allow yourself to be transported by its easy rhythms. If you continue to struggle, using the exhalation to slow the nervous system and ground yourself becomes crucial.
3. Set an intention to do less.
For some of us, thinking and setting intentions may not come quickly; at least, it doesn’t work for me. However, convincing ourselves can be helpful. It helps the brain to shift focus and direct the body in a different direction. During the breath awareness practice, try repeating an intention in the present tense, using a verb that implies doing less.
Ex. I am doing less today, or I practice mindfully and slowly
4. Become an explorer and observer.
Deciding to do less is about experiencing, not just exercising. It involves developing the mindset of an observer and explorer. We can see the body and its sensations with the fresh eyes of a young child. By working this way, we can rediscover things we may have forgotten or never seen before.
5. Embracing Presence: Letting go of goals and destinations.
My former teacher always said, “When you practice, there are no gold medals at the end of it; it is not a competition.” This advice has stuck with me and serves as a reminder to stop striving for immediate results. It’s an opportunity to observe and explore ourselves.
If we set specific goals and fail to achieve them, we can be left feeling disappointed and like we’ve failed. It can push us to continue forcing ourselves, but the chance to truly learn about ourselves is lost.
6. Embrace ‘Imperfections’.
We are not perfect, and that is a blessing. But what does perfection mean in our practice? There is no such thing as an ideal or symmetrical practice, and that is also a blessing. Our practice cannot be perfect because we are imperfect beings. Therefore, we must embrace whatever comes to us and refrain from judging and criticising ourselves and others. We are all at different stages in our practice and must accept this fact.
7. Learn your limits, accept them, and adapt.
The biggest challenge of doing less is knowing the limits of doing too much. It requires recognising when our egocentric mind is pushing us too far. Unfortunately, there is no secret to this. We must first implement and work with all the abovementioned concepts and tips to achieve self-awareness. This awareness leads to acceptance, another challenging aspect of doing less. Finally, we can adjust our practices based on what we have learned.
I am writing this post because I’ve observed numerous unnecessary struggles, unhappiness, and disappointments in my classes. It saddens me because I know the beauty and benefits of moving, breathing, and meditating intuitively and easily.
However, I want to emphasise that “doing less” in our practice does not mean completely stopping movement or energising breathing techniques. While these methods can be helpful in certain circumstances, restorative and slow techniques can also be beneficial for different reasons.
In the classical yoga tradition, finding the right balance between too much effort and too much ease is crucial. Nonetheless, this balance can only be achieved through experiencing both polarities, which we will discuss another time. For now, focus on what is most important in your life and enjoy it.